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Get Curious: Managing Conflict through Curiosity

By Jennifer Kelly, Coast2Coast Training

Take a moment to consider a recent conflict you’ve experienced. What emotions come up for you? Does your stomach take an anxious dip? Do you suddenly feel angry? Conflict can leave us feeling overwrought, evoking a kaleidoscope of mixed emotions. But there is a path you can take to resolution, a path rarely explored in conflict . . . the path of curiosity.

Curiosity is more than being inquisitive about something. Curiosity is about searching for solutions and truths that lie below the surface of the conflict.

Before a conflict becomes layered with emotion and struggle, it usually involves judgement. The judgement that forms in conflict can trigger a vicious cycle trapping both parties—a cycle of action, interpretation, emotion, and judgement, as depicted in the following diagram:

But a mindset of curiosity—curiosity about the solution and the root of the conflict—can break this cycle.

We have a choice in how we react to conflict—we can either go down the path of judgement, which is how we get stuck in the conflict cycle, or we can travel the path of curiosity.

This path encourages curious questions:

What else could be at work in this conflict I am experiencing? What have I taken as given or assumed in this conflict that I shouldn’t?

What am I responsible for in this conflict?

These curious-centered questions can quickly take us off the conflict cycle, but it doesn’t stop there. Beyond these initial questions, we must examine what the conflict is trying to teach us.

Conflict can be your greatest teacher, helping you grow and fulfill your life purpose. For example, is the conflict giving you the opportunity to learn an emotion like patience or compassion? Is the conflict presenting an opportunity for growth? What is the conflict showing us about ourselves, our reactions, and our mindset?

When we examine conflict from the perspective of curiosity, we break the cycle, considering the things we might have missed about the other person’s motives and our own. Most importantly, we consider what the opportunity for growth is. Curiosity helps us move to this place of emotional de-escalation and resolution.

So the next time you are immersed in conflict, wonder curiously:

If I choose to see this conflict as a teacher, what opportunities does this open up for me?

What lessons does it teach?

Content source: © Positive Psychology Products B.V.


Jennifer Kelly

Jennifer is a certified Positive Psychology coach and the co-owner of Coast2Coast Training (C2C), a coaching and training business specializing in workplace and personal wellness. Jennifer is also a certified instructional facilitator and designer.

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