Is there anything as uncomfortable as having to tell your hairdresser that you love what they’ve done, when on the inside you wish you’d never let them near your precious hair? Sadly, it’s a situation I’m all too familiar with. A chronic conflict avoider, I’ve near perfected the art of sincerity and thankfulness while feeling anything but. I would literally rather lie to someone’s face about how I feel, than cause any kind of problem.
Finding a new hairdresser is an unenviable challenge. There’s an inevitable bad haircut or two on the horizon as you test out the places suggested by your acquaintances who aren’t too cool to comment on your Facebook plea for recommendations.
I experienced this a few years ago when I moved cities. I found a lovely little hair salon that offered great services while also doing its bit for the community. The prices were good and my hairdresser was lovely. My first haircut was fine, by which I genuinely mean she did a satisfactory job. My second cut was a little off base. The third was a disaster from which there was no coming back. As she started and then continued cutting hair that I knew should not be being cut, this tiny ball of rage started to grow in me. Yet I sat in silence, even as I watched any chance of hair redemption disappear.
Martyrs to suffering
Over time I’ve seen this pattern play out in different areas of my life. I’ve agreed with things that I had different opinions on because I didn’t want friends to think badly of me. On occasion I’ve harboured annoyed thoughts about things colleagues have done, instead of bringing it to their attention. I’ve even been passive aggressive at home to avoid having potentially awkward, or seemingly self-righteous conversations about my expectations.
The funny thing is that, in my own experience at least, conflict avoiders almost seem to take pleasure in our own martyrdom. We often prefer to sit and stew, silently building up resentment and feelings of being wronged. ‘Why don’t they know!’, we cry, even as we smile and tell someone that everything is great! We’re our own worst enemies!
My own journey in navigating conflict has been slow, but the most helpful thing has been watching and learning from people that do it well. There’s one person in particular in my life who is very obviously comfortable with conflict. Watching their ability to stay calm in the face of intense emotions, seek out differing opinions and have rational discussions has been eye opening. While their example hasn’t necessarily changed the feelings I have in the midst of conflict, it has helped change my feelings about conflict.
A shift of mindset
Seeing people around me do conflict well has completely shifted my mindset from always seeing conflict as a negative, to seeing conflict more as a difference between two people. It’s a variation in viewpoints.
Looking at conflict this way has helped me learn not to take conflict personally. Someone else’s differing opinion is often just that. Conflict doesn’t always equal judgement.
Seek understanding, not agreement
As I’ve learnt more about healthy conflict, I’ve worked hard at listening with the aim to understand, instead of talking to force agreement. Too often I want things my own way, purely because I want people to fall in line with my way of doing things.
Really seeking to understand the core reason why someone is disagreeing has by far been the best way I’ve found to have healthy and productive discussions rather than emotion driven conflict.
Having said all of that, I don’t think that I’m ever going to ask my hairdresser why they thought it would be good to give me that hair style I definitely didn’t ask for. I’ll probably never be able to rationally see a bad haircut as a ‘difference of opinion’ between the hairdresser and myself.
I do hope however that I can continue to develop my own ability to handle conflict well and even (one day!) learn to seek it out where necessary.
Anna hails from Australia but lives and works in South East Asia. She enjoys travel, good coffee and getting to hang out with awesome people from around the world.