How to change your perception of conflict

Do you get stressed out when you know a difficult topic needs to be addressed, or a tough conversation needs to be had? You are not alone.

The Surdek Team
November 22, 2021
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You want your leadership to make a difference inside your organization. As a leader, you want to have powerful conversations that create real change.

But most of us have at least some resistance to conflict. That is simply how human brains are built, even though some form of conflict is a normal part of life.

Do you tend to shy away from difficult topics? Do you see them as confrontations that can quickly escalate and spin out of control? But deep down, do you also feel the limitations of this way of thinking? Do you see how it can get in the way of progress inside your organization?

In this article, we will explain how to dedramatize your perceptions around conflict and how to see it in a more positive light.

What are your beliefs around conflict?

Most people see conflict as a scary, negative thing to avoid at all costs. This can lead you to not always express your needs clearly. You talk around the real problem in the hopes that it will resolve on its own. But you end up frustrated because in reality it rarely works out that way.

First, ask yourself: What meaning do you attach to the word "conflict"? For example, do you see conflict as a fight, or as a confrontation that can go horribly wrong? Or do you perceive it as two people negotiating and trying to reach an agreement? Conflict will occur to you differently in both cases, and you will notice that one is much more stressful than the other.

Assumptions and expectations go a long way in defining how we perceive conflict. The concepts that you associate with it can make it easier or worse for you. So the first step is acknowledging your own perceptions and becoming aware of how you think about conflict.

Say for example, that you believe conflict involves authority, putting your foot down and screaming. Ask yourself: Is any of this true? And what if it wasn't?

What if conflict was just another conversation?

The next step to change your perspective is to challenge your deep-seated beliefs around conflict. Disagreeing with a leader in another department does not necessarily mean “fighting”. Bringing up an issue with your management team does not mean it will be uncomfortable or awkward.

As an executive, are you avoiding these types of difficult conversations with your teams? Take a moment to think about the conversations that you are currently avoiding because of how you see conflict.

What makes a conversation hard is the meaning and the difficulty WE attach to it. In reality, they are conversations just like any other. As action hero Steven Seagal once said: "Anticipation of death is worse than death itself". Ask yourself: Are you making these situations bigger in your own head than what they need to be?

Thinking about it differently can completely change how you enter into those situations. If you are expecting it to go wrong, what can you do instead? Flip it on its head and think of the benefits that having those discussions could create.

How to reframe conflicts as conversations

Sometimes, leaders will try to pass a "subtle message" or play Jedi mind tricks to avoid sounding like they are giving orders. But the problem is that this does not address the true nature of the issues. It can also go over peoples' heads entirely.

Conflict resolution is about communicating in a clear and effective way with your team. It is also about ensuring that issues are dealt with so they do not happen again in the future.

You can start by preparing for the conversations before you enter them. This can help you feel more confident in the moment. Here are a few key points to help you get clarity on the conversation you want to have:

  • Identify the issue that you would like to resolve.
  • Find concise points you would like to discuss.
  • Prepare questions to get other people's perspectives.
  • Define a clear request that you can make.


Everyone's concept of conflict can be different. The key here is to identify your deep-seated perceptions. You can then challenge them and find a definition of conflict that is helpful to you as a leader.

Your way of thinking will drive the conversations you choose to have. Remember that any conflict does not have to be a confrontation. Another point is to communicate in a clear way with your team. Prepare before your discussions and make sure you are being clear on your needs and your requests.

You will make your leadership that much more powerful by getting clarity, framing conflict in another light and remembering it is just another conversation!

What are your core beliefs around conflict? How can shifting your mindset change your leadership in a powerful way?