Carol Bowser: Embracing Conflict Competency

Embracing Conflict Competency: A Journey of Self-Discovery and Growth (With a little musical theater thrown in.)

Conflict Resolution
Written by Carol Bowser

“I hate conflict.” “I’m not good at handling conflict.” I bet that you can relate. I mean who really likes all of the bad feelings and inefficiency that conflict creates?

We experience conflict as emotionally uncomfortable, intellectually challenging, and better avoided.


Working through conflict and developing conflict resolutions skills can lead to personal growth, stronger relationships, and more effective leadership.

Let’s start with what can be amazing and messy first. Personal Growth. Yeah, I said it. Those messy, potentially icky and sometimes marvelous PGM’s (Personal Growth Moments). I know that these often come at inopportune times. I bet that you have experienced the feeling of “Crap. Not now.

I don’t need a PGM right now! I got other stuff to do!” Me too. In fact, most of those personal growth moments come at precisely the time that you don’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to handle them. I have referred to the PGM’s as f***** PGM’s.

PGM #1 Self-Reflection: Understanding Your Approach to Conflict

Let’s begin at the very beginning. A very good place to start. (Musical theater reference #1) To begin the journey towards conflict competency, get to know how you react to and approach conflict. Take an honest and thorough look at yourself. What are your beliefs around conflict? Consider what messages you received and internalized growing up about conflict. Growing up and entering the workforce, what were the significant events and experiences that shaped your belief about conflict and how you behave about conflict.

How are those factors continuing to affect your approach to conflict? Consider if you are choosing or defaulting in your approach? Is your approach compatible with how your employer or your team says it wants disagreements addressed?

Got some ideas? Maybe not firm idea, but maybe…just …maybe an interesting question such as “what did my family believe about conflict?”

So now what???

PGM #2 Exploring Resources

“Somethings coming something good” (Musical theater reference #2) There are sooooooooooo many resources out there. An almost overwhelming number. A simple Google search will get you assessments, books, podcasts, YouTube videos, and conflict coach.

Where to start? I like and have used the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). It has been around for a while and provides a framework to identify which conflict modes you might over utilize and which mode you might underutilize. Books like The Joy of Conflict Resolution by Gary Harper or Resolving Conflicts at Work by Ken Cloke or Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton and Heen.

Here is a little “inside baseball” opinion.

Whatever resource you pick carries its own biases and perspectives. Some approaches may resonate with you. However, even if you disagree or don’t think that a particular approach will work for you, try it out anyway. Sometimes, the most valuable lessons come from the resources we initially resist.

Conflict resolution is a skill set, not a spectator sport. This means learning and trying and improving through trying.

PGM #3 Developing Conflict Competency

“525,600 minutes” (Musical Theater reference #3) There are so many minutes and opportunities to reflect and seek feedback. Feedback-either direct or indirect. Sought or offered. Feedback like how your approach to a conflict helped or escalated the situation. Feedback that others wanted us more engaged or just to back off. Observations that you are inconsistent in the approach so that people don’t know what to expect.

So read the books, listen to the podcasts, listen for feedback then try on and try out language. And… maybe most importantly, tell people who do things well what you like about their approach. Start the conversation about what you appreciate and hope to emulate.
Which leads me to…

PGM #4 Sharing Knowledge and Impacting Others

“Getting to Know You. Getting to Know All About You”. (Musical Theater reference #4). Conflict resolution skills should not be hoarded but shared! Spread this stuff around. It is like a good Netflix show or a good dining experience. It is about sharing what you value. It is about hearing what other people value and rely on. You want others to be better at this stuff? Share it out. Don’t keep it a secret or expect people to recognize what you are doing.

Share. Share. Share. By sharing our insights, we create a ripple effect of positive change, helping others navigate conflicts more effectively and fostering healthier relationships and environments.

The Final Bow and Reprise AKA Summary

Embracing conflict competency is a transformative journey that begins with self-reflection and understanding (and perhaps a good show tune) It requires exploring various resources, recognizing biases, and being open to new ideas. By actively engaging in learning and sharing our knowledge, you can become more adept at resolving conflicts, fostering understanding, and making a positive impact on those around us.

So, let us break free from the confines of our own beliefs and ineffective approaches then strive to develop the skills and competencies needed to navigate conflicts with confidence and compassion. After all, the show must go on! Good luck!