Inner Conflict Management 101



“I am not a victim of emotional conflicts.  I am human”

Marilyn Monroe


I have spent my professional life immersed in conflict management.  As a lawyer, I’ve been trained to spot risk and foresee conflict, and then when it arises, to advise clients on the best way to deal with it, minimizing losses, time and money spent on its resolution.

Yet, this does not make me better at dealing with my own conflicts.  Being personally involved in a conflict is uncomfortable, to say the least.  When looking at a client’s issue, I was able to apply distance and perform a professional analysis – even when departing from an empathetic feeling.  It all vanishes entirely when the conflict touches my own interests and feelings.

Depending on our personality, we may prefer to avoid conflict altogether, or (over)react emotionally and then regret it.  Most of us tend to ignore the conflict or find all sorts of justifications to look elsewhere and wait for it to resolve by itself.

But it rarely does…

I think conflict management starts by acknowledging that conflict is inherent to human nature –or better said, it is part of nature, it inbuilt in the survival mechanism of all plants and animals ‘existence.

Once we acknowledge that it is part of life, it makes sense to find a way to deal with it effectively.  We can learn a lot from listening to others and cultivating a mature and productive exchange.  It doesn’t always result in collaboration, but there is certainly always something to learn from each conflict situation.  In other posts I’ll talk about interpersonal relationships and share some tips to deal with others.

Now, what if the conflict is with yourself?  Inner conflict or contradictions can be self-consuming.  I have noticed that when I’m doing something against my true wishes or values my body starts to send warning signals that translate into stress symptoms:  stomach ache, back pain, depressed immune system…

How often do we find ourselves doing things “because we should”, or because it is someone else’s plan which doesn’t feel like your own?  And worse, how often do you ignore these signals, and go on living with an awkward feeling that something is not right?

Let me share a personal example:  yesterday I needed to contact a woman I have not seen for some time to request a favour.  I first wrote an email “to invite her for coffee to catch up”.  But I didn’t send it, something was not right.  I felt nervous about it and it took me a while to recognize the conflict within me:  I didn’t want to appear pushy and I don’t like asking for favours.  But my other side was saying it wasn’t straightforward and honest to ask for coffee if I had a clear intention to ask for a concrete service.  It took me a while to recognize the conflict.  Then I redrafted the email and asked directly the information I needed.  She replied back, gave me the details I asked for, and proposed herself to go for coffee and catch up!

How can you resolve inner conflicts? 

First, listen to the signs of discomfort.  Is there something you’ve been hiding from?  Decisions you are postponing?  Fear to admit that you are not living the way you want?  Is there any kind of clash with your values?  There can be “small conflicts” that are easy to address (for example, I am a dance teacher, I believe in the immense power of physical exercise to heal the body and mind, and I feel horrible when I’m finding silly excuses to stop exercising – the solution is very simple:  just do it!).  Or there can be more serious issues that require big decisions (like quitting your job or ending a relationship).  Or postponed dreams that can be translated into doable steps.

Whatever it is, I can assure you that having the courage and determination to look into it and find out what is missing from your life or what is no longer acceptable is the biggest step.  From there to taking a decision to do something about it and coming up with a concrete plan to make change happen the way is not so long.

The sense of relief you’ll get from taking a renewed path coherent with yourself is immense.

As my teenage son says:  YOLO!  If you only live once, why be roomies with distress and anxiety caused by conflict within yourself?  Sparing yourself from fighting your own values and wishes is more sensible.  You’ll spend enough energy dealing with conflicts with others, so make peace with the person who is closest to you first.

I’m running a personal development course for women in Brussels called RenewYou on May 24th.  It could take just one day to change your life and come out energized to do what you want.