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The Courage to Choose Conflict

Nobody gets good at something by avoiding it.

“I just don’t do conflict well.” I hear this phrase often. While it is a true statement, something deeper is going on. When someone says they don’t do conflict well—it indicates they let fear control them.

A few years ago, a high ranking executive, Darlene, told me this after one of my sessions. She confided in me how she was about to quit her job because of her boss. His leadership style was to be direct and to the point. He often missed relational cues. He was excellent at getting tasks done. But, he was not good at making others feel valued. If you are familiar with DISC personalities, this temperament will sound familiar. Darlene’s boss had a classic High Dominant (D) personality.

Darlene shared with me, “He makes me feel like I did not earn any of my promotions. I feel like I am his assistant instead of an executive. He just blurts out what he wants without even asking my thoughts.”

When I asked her if she had ever confronted him about how he spoke to her, she said, “I just don’t do conflict well.” Darlene was ready to quit a job she loved and did quite well, all without engaging her boss. She faced a choice which could not only define her career, but also define her character.

As I began to work with Darlene and coached her through this obstacle, we first had to get past why she avoided conflict. Then we could discuss how to do it better. Darlene’s DISC personality was High Steadiness (S). Individuals with a High Steadiness (S) personality have instincts which tell them to shy away from conflict. While this is a natural factor, none of us are doomed to follow our instincts. Darlene had a choice to make sure fear did not control her career.

“Darlene, the reason you don’t do conflict well, is because you don’t do conflict! Nobody gets good at something by avoiding it. We get good at things by practicing them. In this case, you have one guarantee: If you do nothing—nothing will change. But when you have built a strong foundation for your career, is giving it up really what you want?”

Darlene did not want to quit. In fact, she wanted a C-suite promotion in the future. But successful Leaders of Character must be willing and able to engage in productive conflict. We call this principle Courageous Communication in our Communicate with Character workshops.

Darlene went through our seminar. We also worked together through further coaching sessions. In the end, Darlene gained confidence and Courage to have a conversation with her boss. She became the catalyst to changing their relationship for the better. She gained his respect because she did something and actually stood up to him. In turn, he gained her respect because she realized he would listen to her when she approached him with Courageous Communication.

While many coaches spend time on teaching people how to engage in productive conflict, I find several personality temperaments need us to coach through the root cause of conflict avoidance. What is the root cause? Often, it is a lack of Courage, not a lack of competency. Without the Courage to speak up, the skills being taught will never be used.

How many times have we put off engaging in potential conflict, only to realize – after we finally spoke up—it turned out better than expected? Fear makes it seem worse than it actually is. Silence is a choice. Speaking up is a choice. For each of us, every time we step up and speak up, it will make it easier to make the same choice again. This is how habits are formed, one choice at a time. Every time we exercise Courage and speak up, we strengthen our character.

Practice is our key to getting better at conflict. When we have the Courage to engage in productive conflict, it will get easier the next time. But, the first step is to overcome the fear and discomfort it causes and actually do what our fear is telling us to avoid. This is how Courageous Communication becomes part of our character.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how willing are you to engage in conflict?

  • Is this different at work or at home? Why?


It is important to us for you to have an opportunity to exercise Courage, not only individually, but together as a team. This is why we have created practice cards with scenarios. We invite you to discuss as a team what it means to exercise Courage via our Coaching Cards.

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