Conflict Resolution for Introverts (and Everyone Else!)
As an introvert, I frequently struggle with verbalizing my thoughts in a timely, comprehensible fashion. Typically, my brain moves way faster than my mouth can. Often, after I’ve said something, I think ‘What the hell am I talking about?’ It’s massively frustrating when the words in my brain don’t match the words coming out of my mouth. Under normal, every day social circumstances, I’m fairly fumbly in my various verbal interactions. When faced with a confrontation or any kind of conflict, I’m rendered a bumbling idiot. The adrenaline kicks in and I find myself sweating, nauseous, and vibrating from head to toe, unable to think straight or form reasonable sentences.
Conflict has always been a problem for me. I avoid it at all costs. I don’t even like watching conflict play out in movies and tv shows. It makes me wildly uncomfortable and squirmy. It has been such a big issue for me in the past that I’ve allowed important relationships to suffer severely or even come to an end in the name of avoiding confrontation.
I think a lot of my intense discomfort with it all comes from the picture I get in my head of what conflict and confrontations look like – people yelling, issuing ultimatums, trying to bulldoze each other. Each person’s fight-to-the-death need to be right. Huge egos. Low blows. Tears. Awkward silences. This is what I’ve witnessed in terms of conflict resolution for most of my life. It never really occurred to me that there was any other potentially calmer, kinder, more productive way to deal with difficulties in my relationships.
Last year I read an incredible book by fellow introvert Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In it she talks about a time in her career as a lawyer where she was thrust into a leadership role during a negotiations meeting with opposing counsel. Talk about a stressful situation. She had the same viewpoint as me when it comes to maneuvering hostile encounters. She felt that she needed to be viciously aggressive and go in guns a blazing, arguing and making demands left right and center. Which only serves to cause her great anxiety because that’s just not who she is or how she communicates. Long story short, she decided to approach the situation as a problem solver, with the intent to find resolution, a style far more consistent with her core self. And guess what? She was overwhelmingly successful and greatly impressed her boss and the opposition, to her enormous delight.
It struck me as I read her account, that it just might work for me too. That every time I face a potentially hostile situation, I have an opportunity to stay calm, ask questions and help solve a problem instead of get defensive and angry and argue, trying to ‘win’.
Another handy problem solving method I’ve discovered when dealing with super angry, irrationally spaztastic people, is to do nothing. I shit you not. Those kinds of people generally have zero interest in finding resolution and just get a thrill out of creating drama and having toddler sized temper tantrums. So rather than waste your limited precious energy on a perpetually disgruntled, chaos seeking individual, do nothing. Do. Not. Engage. Honest to goodness, I’ve tried it and it works. These people have the attention span of a goldfish and when you don’t feed their need for a fight, they get bored and move on. It’s magical!
And if the confrontation is the result of a mistake I’ve made, I can own up to it and apologize sincerely and then move past it. My pride used to be so big that I just couldn’t handle admitting that I might not be perfect and that maybe, possibly, I had done something wrong. You know, cause my refusal to own it really convinces me and the offended party that I didn’t screw up. And oh, how I enjoyed that not so quiet voice in the back of my head that would frequently remind me how cowardly and immature my denial was. It’s kinda funny, but I’ve actually found that taking responsibility for that shit is incredibly empowering and freeing. Allowing yourself to be imperfect and acknowledging and apologizing for your bad decisions earns you a buttload of respect from the people around you. It also keeps you in a humble frame of mind that helps you view other people’s bad calls without judgement.
At the end of the day, dealing with conflict and confrontation is no different than any other area of life.You get out of it what you put in to it. The goal should be going to bed at night knowing you conducted yourself like a grown ass person in your dealings with others, not only conflicts, but every person you come into contact with. You will sleep like a baby knowing you faced everyone respectfully, maturely, and with solution oriented humility.
Now off you go. Time to slay some dragons and become the conflict resolving badass you were always meant to be.