7 Fears of Confronting Conflict

A month or two ago I had a long drive ahead of me as I traveled north to visit a client. So I downloaded some podcasts to digest during the trek. In one, Patsi Krakoff and Denise Wakeman interviewed a marketing professional about why people dislike marketing and promotional activities in business. The marketing professional, CJ Hayden, shared a list of what she called the seven fears of self-promotion:

  1. Rejection
  2. Ridicule
  3. Embarrassment
  4. The Unknown
  5. Failure
  6. Success
  7. Disapproval

From the perspective of a mediator and conflict management coach, this is a pretty interesting list. Interesting enough that I pulled over, picked up my cell phone, and recorded the marketing professional’s name and the seven fears. Then I had another hour of driving that went very quickly while I mused over her list.

Confronting conflict or engaging in a negotiation elicits a certain amount of fear or trepidation from a fair number of people, too. While Hayden’s list is likely not comprehensive, I can see any of those seven items being as much about fear of confronting conflict as they are about self-promotion:

  1. Rejection – This situation could result in me being rejected by the other person or group. Is it worth risking it?
  2. Ridicule and Embarrassment – I could lose my cool, start to cry, get a mental block or simply do something stupid. Do I want to risk that?
  3. The Unknown – Starting a difficult conversation is like stepping into a dark void without being sure I know the bridge is under my feet. Is the result going to be worth it?
  4. Failure – I might make things worse. Or maybe it won’t make any difference at all. Or I might end up the loser on the deal. Is avoiding the potential for failure worth more than the potential of success?
  5. Success – Maybe I’ll really succeed. Will the other person be unhappy if I do well for myself? If I have a difficult conversation that goes swimmingly, will I be expected to have more of them? Would I know success if I saw it?
  6. Disapproval – The other person might disapprove of my behavior, my attitude, my approach, my style, all of me. And worse yet, when I’m lying awake tonight, I might disapprove of my own attempts. Do I really want to invite that potential?

Unfortunately, I got so wrapped up in my own thoughts about the fears of confronting conflict that I failed to listen to the rest of the hour-long podcast. I’m sure Hayden spent time explaining how to deal with those fears. Here’s what I’ll say briefly about confronting the fears of confronting:

In my experience, the advance worry is often worse than the actual conversation. Fretting over all that could go wrong takes energy away from healthy strategizing about how to help things go right. Put your energy where it’s most effective.

I used to be a dean at a women’s college affiliated with the Sisters of Mercy. One of the nuns I really liked used to smile and say, “That student needs to pull herself up by her bootstraps. Get over it. Just do it.” I thought of her as the Nike of Nuns. While it’s not always the best advice, I do think there’s something worthwhile in taking even a small step to confront a fear instead of remaining in place, paralyzed by it. Do something, anything…it’ll get you started.

Ironically, failure to act (in other words, failure to confront the important conflicts in our lives) often results in worse outcomes than any of the above fears coming true. Distancing in a valuable relationship. Broken bonds. Turmoil at work. Loss of motivation and productivity. Lots of interpersonal debris. Taking action gives you more control over your own situation.

The act of confronting the important matters in our lives is an act full of potential even when we’re not very graceful.

This article was originally published in my regular column for The Monadnock Ledger.