Most people are averse to conflict, if not terrified of it. But it’s a natural part of any relationship. Being more effective in business often involves becoming more comfortable with conflict, even embracing it in ways that can lead to better collaboration and improved creativity.
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are the authors of “The Beauty of Conflict,” a series of books about navigating conflict in personal and business relationships. As consultants and coaches, Campbell and Clarke specialize in helping clients address conflict productively through a process of introspection, curiosity, and openness to new ideas. They’ll share some of their expertise at Imaging USA 2021 in January.
When passionate people discuss something important about which they have differing opinions, strong emotions can arise. It’s easy to slip into right-versus-wrong thinking, which isn’t productive. The resulting tension is created by the brain when it’s trying to reconcile opposing ideas.
Most people try to avoid this tension, but Campbell and Clarke say it can be put to work. “If you can hold that tension,” says Campbell, “new ideas emerge. This creates new neural pathways. We call it passionate listening. This is listening not just to defend your position, but listening with the potential to be influenced and absorb the idea in a whole new way.” And that can lead to productive dialog, creative collaboration, and new ideas.
Adds Clarke, “We are suggesting that the key is to lean into conflict. Most of us try to get rid of tension, deescalate, manage it, avoid it. We think you need to get better at holding that space for the tension to be there, hanging out in your discomfort zone, so to speak, and then using that tension productively.”
The first step in using conflict effectively is understanding your reaction to it. When you become aware of your usual pattern of conflict avoidance kicking in, then you can recognize the situation and start to change your thought process.
People react to conflict in different ways, often involving a few typical responses:
Of course, most people would rather avoid conflict altogether, often opting out of tense situations using a few common methods:
When it comes to moving your mindset to a place of active listening and collaboration, Campbell and Clarke suggest two key considerations:
“This is about expressing a level of realness,” says Campbell. “I’m showing up, taking my armor off, being vulnerable. That really helps people to see that I’m trying to connect.”
It also helps to name the feelings you’re experiencing and recognize them as normal. So often we don’t name the thing when we’re uncomfortable, say Campbell and Clarke. Instead we try to control the situation. It’s OK to be in this uncomfortable space, but if you hang in a little longer, you can collaborate and possibly create a solution that works for everyone.
Building productive collaboration out of conflict doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be overrun by stress. In fact, it’s the opposite. To manage conflict productively, you have to reduce your stress so you can think more clearly. Studies show that people’s IQs drop by 10 to 15 points when they’re stressed. We literally get dumber.
Campbell and Clarke suggest a few simple techniques for managing stress:
Once you’ve reduced your stress, proceed by considering the three primary areas of conflict.
How does all this psychology and introspection help your photography business? The practical implications range from more effectively dealing with difficult clients to working better with creative teams. It also applies to the challenges of growing your business and shifting your work to the things you want to do and should do for your business. Those changes can be uncomfortable.
Will you let that discomfort force you into retreat, or will you lean into the conflict and forge ahead toward new possibilities?
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large for Professional Photographer.
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