Don’t Be Afraid of Conflict: Embrace Courageous Conversations

by Scott Crabtree

Are you dealing with conflict at work? The next time you need to have a difficult conversation with a colleague, try these science-based tips to actively strengthen your relationship! Join Scott Crabtree, CEO of Happy Brain Science, on a journey through 100+ science-based solutions from our Choose Happiness @ Work card game! This post features the solution: Courageous Conversations.

***Watch the video or continue reading below.***



Courageous Conversation: Have a difficult conversation that needs to be had. Calm yourself and your fears, then be respectful, assertive, and flexible.
100+ ways to thrive at work!

This Choose Happiness @ Work card is: “Courageous Conversation. Have a difficult conversation that needs to be had. Calm yourself and your fears, then be respectful, assertive, and flexible. Because the quality of our relationships has a huge effect on the experience of our working lives.”

If you had to boil the science of happiness⁠—and to a certain extent, employee engagement⁠—down to one word, according to Harvard scientist Daniel Gilbert, that word would be “social.” We are social creatures. We need each other to be happy. And the quality of our relationships is a huge driver of happiness and engagement at work.

Dealing with conflict in the workplace

But what do you do when things get hard? What many of us do is, we avoid difficult conversations. Or we get really aggressive during them and say things that we forget (or regret). Or we just acquiesce and give someone whatever they want.

Those very roughly correspond to our fight, flight, and freeze responses. And while those responses are great for surviving encounters with mountain lions, they are not so great for surviving⁠—or thriving⁠—during difficult conversations with your colleagues.

A different kind of courage

Solid evidence suggests that while we fear conflict (because unfortunately, throughout human history, conflict has been dangerous or even deadly), at work, we shouldn’t need to fear conflict. In fact, conflict can be a wonderfully useful tool that can surface and solve problems, achieve new balance in relationships, and even enliven relationships.

When I give my workshop “STOP SHOUTING: Collaboration through Candid Conversation,” I often ask people, “Have you ever been afraid of a difficult conversation, had that conversation, and then realized you had a better relationship on the other side of it?” And I know my hand goes up, and usually a high percentage of hands go up.

In fact, difficult conversations can enliven and re-energize⁠—revitalize⁠—relationships. The quality of our relationships is huge for happiness and engagement at work. So, be brave. Be courageous. Have the difficult conversations that need to be had.

How to have courageous conversations at work

Do so privately, respectfully. First, cooperate. First, listen. You have to keep your fears in check, and you have to keep your dialogue partner’s fears in check. You both need to have what Google calls “psychological safety.”

If you feel safe⁠—if your reputation is safe⁠—if you’re demonstrating a lot of respect to the person you disagree with and keeping them feeling safe, then you can have a constructive dialogue. And when you integrate different opinions, you often get an innovative breakthrough.

So have those courageous conversations!

Want more great videos about being happier at work?

For more tips like this, please subscribe to the Happy Brain Science YouTube channel and/or check out my “serious game”: Choose Happiness @ Work.

Scott Crabtree

As the Founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happy Brain Science, Scott Crabtree empowers individuals and organizations to apply findings from cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology to boost productivity and happiness at work.

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