As introverts, most of us have a mortal fear of (or, at least a great distaste for) loud, aggressive, quarrelsome and pugnacious temperaments. Being the quiet people we are, we would really prefer not to have to deal with aggressive behavior, and when we do stumble into a conversation or argument with such types of people, we often don’t know how to maintain our quiet strength.
How on earth do we navigate interactions with the people in our lives who are ruthlessly vocal and blatantly hostile? How do we have peaceful and respectful interactions with abrasive and warlike personalities? And furthermore, how do we translate this into our work lives which often demand intense competition and gregarious self-promotion?
6 Ways to Deal With Conflict as an Introvert
Successfully dealing with conflict on an interpersonal level requires a number of steps which often need to be repeated a number of times. The good news is that it is NOT necessary to:
- Repress, or
- Raise your voice
… in order to communicate assertively in conflicting situations. All that is required is observation, analysis and thoughtfulness to skilfully maneuver through these uncomfortable situations – qualities which as an introvert, you shouldn’t struggle with very much!
Let’s now take a look at some essential steps to peacefully and effectively steering through antagonistic social situations.
1. Quietly observe
Observe the situation, what the issue is and how the other person or people are feeling. Also observe how you are feeling – tense, angry, frightened? Learning to take a moment to observe and gather information will help you to identify your needs, and the needs of the other person or people. Observing will help you to go to the core of the problem, rather than simply focusing on and reacting to external superficialities. This in turn will help to ground you and center you so you are not tossed about by emotions or empty arguments.
2. Pose a question
This marks the beginning of your assertive interaction with other people. The objective is to understand their needs: what they want, what needs of theirs aren’t being met and what they expect. So that they feel heard and understood, it is important for you to reflect back to them your understanding of their needs and desires. For example, you could say: “So you’re trying to tell me that you’re disappointed that I’m not willing to do the presentation?”
Remember: Never paraphrase what another person says in a way that puts you personally at blame or fault, only your actions.
So for instance, instead of saying: “You’re trying to tell me that you’re disappointed with my stubbornness?” say: “You’re trying to tell me that my behavior doesn’t reflect enough openness?”
If you haven’t reflected their needs or desires correctly, they will express this to you; so again, you will need to pose a question, again attempting to reflect their needs or desires.
3. Take ownership of your thoughts or feelings
When we disagree with others, the most peaceful, civil and respectful way of going about doing this is by taking ownership of our thoughts or feelings. By doing this, we are acknowledging our perception of events and not dictating what is right, what is wrong, who is at fault, and who is guiltless.
For example, if we have a person openly criticizing us for one reason or another, say, they call us an “idiot,” we could say: “When you said those words I felt as though you were personally attacking me. Is that correct?” In this way we catch the person off guard and maintain our quiet strength by not reacting.
Another example could be having a disagreement about “normal versus abnormal behavior” in a family environment. For instance, we might be called “hermits” or “antisocial loners” due to our tendency to spend long periods of time by ourselves. In response we could say: “When you call me those names, I feel as though you’re attempting to hurt my feelings. Why?”
4. Challenge the person’s actions, NOT who they are as a person
Sometimes we wind up in heated, sticky situations where emotions run loose, and hurtful things are said sometimes even without provocation. Being able to distinguish a person from their words and actions is a very important facet of assertive communication and allows us to communicate in a firm, but fair way.
If someone has become verbally abusive towards us for instance, instead of giving away our personal power by reacting with anger, we could instead choose to stop, observe our feelings, and say: “I don’t like the words you just used – they’re inappropriate to this conversation.” Or if someone behaves in an antagonistic or threatening way, we might choose to say: “I understand that you are upset, but I don’t appreciate the way you are behaving.” Remember to focus on the person’s words or actions as the source of the problem, rather than making personal attacks.
5. Negotiate with your needs AND the needs of the other in mind
Assertive communication is not a win-lose method of interacting – it is a win-win approach. Often when we are in uncomfortable situations, the needs or desires of one or more parties are not being met. The goal is to find a meeting point in the middle without compromising yourself and what your requirements are.
To resolve arguments and conflicts, we often need to acknowledge the other person’s needs or desires (as mentioned above), and express our desire to meet that need or desire, while factoring in our own. Sound complex? The below examples will better illustrate this point.
Your co-worker wants you to cover their shift on the weekend. However, you wanted to relax with a good book and listen to some soothing music. You express to them your desire to stay home and chill out, but they become agitated and irritable. “But I have to see my daughter who is flying in! Can’t you just do me this favor for once?” they say. At this point you could choose to give in or to fight back. Alternatively, you could choose to negotiate. You might choose to say: “You must be really excited to see her. Would you like me to ask around to see if anyone else is available?” Or, if your need to relax isn’t that important, you might say: “OK, I’ll be happy to cover your shift this weekend. Would you be able to do a little favor for me as well? I need these pages photocopied and taken to the supervisor.”
Negotiating is about finding mutually beneficial solutions.
6. Be aware of what your rights are
Often, it is hard for us to say “no” because we are not aware of what rights we have in the first place. When we struggle to be assertive and to make our needs and desires known, this is sometimes an expression of the underlying belief that we are not as important as other people are, or what we have to say isn’t really that relevant. Therefore, whenever we come into a challenging situation, it is important to remember our rights, and when they are and are not being met or respected. Examples of our fundamental rights include:
- The right to be treated with respect.
- The right to voice our opinions, perspectives and emotions in an open environment.
- The right to have our thoughts and feelings listened to and considered.
- The right to say “no” or “yes” out of personal choice.
- The right to be treated as an equal, regardless of age, title, race, background or rank.
- The right to walk away from an aggressive person or situation.
- The right to feel safe.
Knowing our rights also helps us to know where, when and how to be assertive. A common mistake that is made when practicing assertiveness is using this skill in irrelevant situations – situations that portray us as bossy, demanding and even nosy! For example, it is not always necessary that we make our opinions, thoughts or feelings known to every person we come across each day. Sometimes simply listening, or showing compassionate understanding, is necessary. As with anything in life, being assertive requires balance and common sense.
Dealing with conflict as a quiet person can be confronting, confusing and tiring. But it doesn’t always have to be. With the right knowledge, skills and practice, you can preserve your quiet strength in almost any situation.
This article was taken from my book, “Quiet Strength.” You can grab your own copy from our shop.