Handling conflict

An essential soft skill to master

How to handle conflict and confrontations constructively and with ease is an essential soft skill to master.

Mastering it offers professional advantages in terms of

  • better collaboration and
  • increased productivity.

Personally it leads to

  • stress reduction and
  • a better quality of life.

At the end of the article, we explain how coaching can help you handle conflicts constructively and with ease. You can also go there directly.For even more information, please look at our coaching offer, or book your free getting to know each other call now.

Here we describe why many people don’t handle conflict with ease and confidence, and how they can easily learn to do so.

Find our other articles on handling conflict and dealing with confrontations in the category Handling conflicts and confrontations with soft skills.

Conflicts and their consequences for you

Inevitably, all of us encounter personal confrontations, antagonism or undue pressure from others in our career and life. Conflicts are a fact of life and cannot be evaded. Perhaps they can be sidestepped at times, but often the emotions remain and erode potential, resilience, and self-confidence.

Most of us neither seek conflict, nor are very adept at handling them. Some people seem able to endure conflicts. From time to time you even meet someone who uses conflict as a means to an end. But in fact, many people avoid addressing conflicts at all.

People who find engaging with conflict situations difficult try to defend themselves by accommodating to the demands of the other party. They do this for example by not engaging with the conflict at all, or by accepting to play a role that does not suit them.

As a consequence, their level of stress intensifies. They still experience the conflict long afterwards. Also, they are more vulnerable to expect negative effects from future conflicts.

This defensive reaction has a negative impact on self-confidence and effectiveness.  Moreover, and just as important, it does not lead to the constructive resolution of conflicts.

Why being able to handle conflict is critical for your success

Avoidance of conflict, accommodation to conflict, or indeed reacting aggressively to conflict, is not productive. It does not help the quality of cooperation with other people. Certainly it is not helpful for your personal quality of life. It will not solve the problems productively or constructively. It just temporarily lessens some of the pressure.

However, it is entirely feasible to learn to engage with conflict professionally and resolve the conflict before it gets to be personal, emotional and unproductive. Coaching is a helpful tool in this respect. (See below how our coaching can assist you).

The benefits of being able to handle conflict

Since conflicts are a fact of life, it would be advantageous to be able to engage adequately with them. You don’t need to become a world-class conflict solver. It would just mean you would be able to respond with calmness and inner stability. You would also remain true to yourself and what you think is important. Here are some of the main benefits.

  • Being able to address conflict and confrontations in a healthy, productive manner offers a social and professional advantage in creating opportunities and developing relations.
  • What is more, given the level of stress conflicts generate, being able to engage with them without unhealthy stress improves the quality of your life.
  • Viewed from a professional angle, handling conflict constructively through engaging with the real problems that cause conflicts will save resources, facilitate improvement, and drive performance.
  • Finally, it also helps to clarify what needs to be done to achieve results.

Learning to handle conflicts also offers personal benefits, such as emotional stability, mental strength, and physical calmness. You regain control and self-confidence where you became tense before. Now you are able to respond adequately and engage constructively with conflict. You are able to maintain a professional attitude and remain personally true to your values, purpose and goal.

All these advantages make handling conflict constructively an essential soft skill to master.

While all of the above is true and doable, why do many people find handling conflicts and confrontations hard to do?

What explains why handling conflict seems hard to do

The original meaning of conflict is an image of things being struck together. Sparks fly. In the case of conflicts the ‘sparks’ are the emotions in reaction to the conflict.

Usually these are the emotions of anger and frustration, but also often of some fear. Now fear knows many levels of intensity, from a minor concern to anxiety or panic. Personally we may know the difference between a slight worry or troubling mistrust. The brain however isn’t really able to perceive the difference and reacts to it as if danger is imminent.

For your brain, all these emotions are signals there might be danger. In reaction to this insecurity the brain makes the body react with the freeze, flight or fight response. These mental and bodily states facilitate the accommodating, avoiding or aggressive approach to conflict. As we said, neither of these approaches is productive or constructive.

A requirement to handle conflict productively is to be able to accept that these emotions might prevent you from acting in the right manner. ‘Right’ is what serves your goal, is in line with who you are and is effortlessly doable. But this acceptation isn’t a given, because the emotions are often forceful and bordering on the very personal.

To handle a conflict productively it is necessary to digest your emotions first. You need to give yourself the space and time to find (and be able to give) the right answer. The right answer is an answer that invites the other person to seriously consider your point of view.

The right answer and what you need to be able to give it

It is a calm attitude and self-confidence that persuades the other person to let go of a possible conflict, and to consider your point of view. In this manner you allow for a resolution. Your attitude has to promise the possibility of a resolution of both the tension and of the problem. This requires a rational approach, showing behaviour that is self-confident and competent.

Most conflicts diminish when someone describes the situation adequately and fairly, and offers a resolution of some realism. A rational approach, as the one we describe here, will only be credible when your emotions don’t run away with you. Your inner calm and adequate behavior take the sharp edge of a conflict. This allows a real solution to be found and accepted.

In other words, when you are more comfortable in handling conflict, you will be able to engage constructively with the people and the situation that cause the conflict.

When you experience conflicts as difficult, this rational approach may sound outlandish and hard. Yet it is amply within your current capabilities. It just involves some understanding of your reactions towards conflicts. This allows you to experience how you regain inner calm and self-confidence. How can coaching help you here?

Coaching in handling conflict productively

Our coaching in handling conflict offers to find why you can’t deal adequately and comfortably with a specific conflict. It improves your ideas about yourself and conflicts. Your emotional reactions will become manageable.

Coaching also helps you to find what you are already good at that you can use in handling conflicts. The coaching produces the inner trust that brings balance, self-confidence, and a rational approach to conflict easily within reach.

Finally, it enables you to answer conflicts adequately in accordance with your personal preference and within your comfort zone.

Expanding your experience

The good news is that you are already perfectly capable of tempering some tension or problems in situations where there is no conflict. All you need is to experience what you require to turn a conflict into a normal situation. To a large extent these requirements are within your current capability. You just haven’t experienced that they work as well in conflict situations. It is mainly the intensity of the emotions and the expectations of tension associated with conflict that trigger you to unproductive actions or inaction towards conflict.

Self-confidence and the intensity of the emotions you feel determine if you experience a situation as normal. The level of normality determines the meaning you give to what happens and consequently how you react to the situation.

The more self-confidence you have, the lower the intensity of the emotions will be. Self-confidence can be learned easily with the right coaching. This coaching guides you through experiences you trust already and enables you step-by-step to apply them to the conflict situation. When you start to trust this new, extended experience, things that seem difficult will appear as feasible and doable. In this process of expanding your experience you will also discover what soft skills you need to handle conflict effectively.

The right soft skills

The right soft kills that suit you and that you apply in your own manner are crucial in responding to a conflict in a fitting mode. Conflicts often cause a toughening of attitude on both sides. When one applies the right soft skills these tough attitudes soften.

The tempering of the confrontational behavior creates space for a different meaning and new, constructive behavior. That is why soft skills make easy what was hard. This is what coaching in handling conflict effectively enables you to find and apply.

Handle conflict and confrontation effectively

Our results show that coaching to handle conflicts productively leads to:

    • Inner peace and balance when there is a conflict
    • Self-confidence in handling conflicts
    • Authentic and leading behavior in conflicts
    • Effective conflict resolution in the workplace
    • Personal well-being after a conflict
    • Recognizing and understanding conflict
    • Leading people through conflict with confidence and safety
    • Changing confrontational attitudes in other people
    • Dealing with conflict avoidance and fear of conflict
    • Bypassing defensive or offensive reactions to conflict, and finding a productive solution
    • Finding what causes your fear of conflicts and changing it into what is productive.

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