The words confrontation and avoidance have polarized American corporations. Confrontational people are seen as aggressive, or even bullying. The antonym for confrontation is avoidance. We wouldn’t characterize anyone as a leader if they avoid problems. Most corporate workers in America do avoid situations much to the detriment of the enterprise. We need to rethink conflict in order to make confrontation an integral part of leadership.
Dealing With Difficult People and Situations
Margaret Heffernen, in her Ted talk, says corporate workers don’t want to deal with difficult people and situations:
“In surveys of European and American executives, fully 85 percent of them acknowledged that they had issues or concerns at work that they were afraid to raise. Afraid of the conflict it would provoke, afraid to get embroiled in arguments they did not know how to manage, and felt they were bound to lose…It means that organizations…can’t think together. And it means that people like many of us, who have run organizations, and gone out of our way to try to find the very best people we can, mostly fail to get the best out of them.”
We can learn to confront difficulty by first changing our perception of conflict from negative to positive.
Conflict is an opportunity to build something great and it’s woven into the fabric of our society. A lawyer will play both sides of the argument to build her case, picking apart her own evidence to ensure a solid offense or defense. A coach constantly criticizes a player’s every move on the field, in order to lessen the athlete’s mistakes.
Why, then, are we so afraid of someone disagreeing or criticizing us at work? Why are we afraid to do so in return?
Alternative Dispute Resolution
The Japanese art of Aikido embraces conflict as a chance for learning and growth. At the heart of Aikido is conflict. The attacker is really your teacher, using his energy to prompt you through an exercise.
Aikido’s philosophy provides an alternative means of dispute resolution wholly unique to the art. I’ve talked about centering, [link] where you clear your mind, breathe and calmly focus on your core. Then I wrote about focusing [link] and the importance of being mindful, or present in the moment. Last week I explained extending, [link] where you extend positive thoughts to the person or situation coming up against you.
Next, you practice entering, or stepping towards your attacker in that calm, peaceful and loving state. Entering is the practice of stepping (or leaning) into confrontation rather than avoiding it. You can’t redirect an attack unless you come into close physical proximity with your attacker. Entering is not an aggressive move—it’s confrontation in a non-confrontational way. It’s also not avoiding the issue—you’ve reconciled conflict in your mind as an opportunity, and thus, entering should not be difficult. In a business setting, physically moving closer to someone can often times be difficult, but you can apply the same philosophy mentally and emotionally.
Watch my YouTube video to see the Aikido practice of Entering in action:
Don’t worry; I won’t leave you standing in harms’ way! As a final installment in the Centered Leader Series, I will finish with Blending, the last step in dealing with conflict.