Many times in tense situations there is a strong desire to minimize the conflict. The excuse "I didn't want to hurt their feelings" very often comes into play. Being authentic requires honest and transparent discussion about how a situation has affected you. This is a key to identifying and changing the source of the conflict. If one or both parties are not willing to speak openly and honestly — the situation can not actually change.
Courage in conflict
Emotional authenticity requires courage. When addressing an issue that is causing conflict there can be very real fears of:
- Something terrible that has not yet been named — but you KNOW it will destroy you!
Individuals who are reluctant to enter into authentic discussions about a conflict often focus on the negative outcomes that might occur. They forget that once an issue is accurately named, it can be addressed.
Benefits of authenticity
When an issue is addressed authentically there are sometimes completely unexpected benefits:
- Rebuilding of trust
- Understanding a different point of view
- Uncovering issues of which you were unaware
- Feeling heard and validated by speaking truth
- Making the tough decisions — even though painful — allowing parties to move past the conflict and get a fresh start.
Making it happen
The first step in being authentic in conflict situations is to analyze those things that you are holding back. Is there a valid reason to not discuss it?
- Identify what that reason might be.
- Think through how the situation looks without talking about it.
- Think through what might change if you do talk about it — best/worst case scenarios.
Understand that holding back leads to incomplete information. It is very difficult to make appropriate changes without the full picture. You may make changes that actually make a situation worse because you don't have all the details.
Change how you talk about it
Changing how you say something may make a bigger difference than changing what you need to say. Tone, body language and personal history all go into what someone hears when another person is speaking. Here are some hints to make potentially painful statements easier to digest:
- Write it down. This gives the other party time to analyze and understand the words in a different format.
- Be as objective and specific as possible. Don't use emotionally inflammatory phrases like "you always or you never". Be very clear that the issue you are discussing is not one being dredged up from the past. If you are discussing a pattern of issues — identify that it is a pattern with specific instances identified.
- Break the issue down into bite-sized pieces. Don't try to tackle everything that might be wrong all at once. Identify a small issue and come to a resolution. Then you can build on that success.
- Allow silence. This is something many people find extremely difficult. Silence allows people to process and think through what is being discussed. But it needs to be attentive silence. Don't make a statement and then start going through your phone or doing something else. Sit quietly waiting for a reply.
- Keep your voice quiet, firm and confident. The louder your voice, the more the other person will react with a fight/flight response.
Understand that when you decide to address conflicts, the other party may not take your efforts well. Being authentic about what the problems are and that you want to resolve them is something you do so that you can feel good about the discussion. While you can not guarantee the other party will be thrilled that you are calling out issues, by being authentic about what those issues are you will change the situation and move forward.