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Choosing Conflict

June 17, 2024

I have a tendency to avoid conflict.

Maybe you’re like me. You think if you avoid or ignore a situation, it’s going to magically get better. Except that doesn’t usually happen. In fact, avoiding it often makes things worse.

If you haven’t heard the cow and buffalo story before, this will be a revelation. For the rest of you, I’m willing to bet you could use the reminder.

When cows sense a storm approaching, their instinct is to try outrunning it. If the storm moves west to east, the slow-footed cow will plod further east, expending more energy yet inevitably getting drenched as the storm overtakes it.

Buffaloes, however, take the opposite approach. Sensing that same western storm, the buffalo charges right toward it from the east. By moving into the storm’s path rather than vainly trying to escape it, the buffalo encounters the storm head on and passes through it much more quickly.

This analogy contains a powerful principle:

When we’re willing to face challenges head-on, we minimize fallout and arrive at a resolution more quickly.

Now, I’m not advocating for constantly picking fights or a combative spirit. Unrestrained conflict benefits no one. But a willingness to engage, even when it’s uncomfortable, is a discipline we should learn. 

I love this quote from Tim Ferris:

“A person’s success in life can often be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have in a day.”

We should lean into difficult discussions – not just as a last resort, but as a first move. Facing challenges is a step on the path toward fulfilling our potential.

Which uncomfortable conversation have you been running from?

Here’s my encouragement:

• Pick up the phone, call the client, and make the hard ask.

• Own your mistake, call your friend, and tell them you can’t come to their event because you’ve overcommitted yourself

• Schedule the meeting, sit down with your teammate, and give the constructive criticism he or she needs to grow.

• Fine-tune your resume, gather your references, and call your contact at the company where you really want a job.

Lean into the uncomfortable. Engage where you’ve been avoiding. My bet is that you’ll ultimately emerge stronger and stop wasting emotional energy while you’re avoiding.


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