It’s a new year and we have a question for you! Are you bringing anything into the new year that you don’t need? Have you addressed any conflict baggage you may have hanging around?
By “conflict baggage” we simply mean unresolved feelings from past conflict situations. Have you ever wondered what happens inside of you when things are left unsaid? Plenty! It can start small with incremental feelings of being underappreciated or overwhelmed. If unacknowledged, it can expand to color your every interaction.
While most people know that they have conflict baggage, typically, what is unknown is how and when it shows up for them. How do you know you have unaddressed conflict baggage? There are easy to recognize symptoms:
Whenever certain topics (or people) arise, your immediate response is defensiveness.
You tend to respond with sarcasm, spite, or dismissiveness (you may think such responses are funny or clever, but it should be noted that they usually do not have a positive effect on the person you’re talking to).
If sarcasm isn’t your style, you might avoid certain topics or people altogether but just thinking about having to deal with them makes you tense.
No matter what your response style is, you keep score. You bring up (or want to bring up) wrongs done in the past that justify current behavior or prove your displeasure regarding current, possibly unrelated, issues.
The most important clue: resentment.
If you’ve ever contributed to an argument by bringing up something that happened days/weeks/months/years ago...you have conflict baggage.
We have good news for you: Conflict baggage can be useful.
Resentment is a cue to check in with yourself. It is usually attached to a situation you chose to ignore in order to keep the peace at the time but in doing so, you also ignored your personal needs. There's something to be said for choosing to go with the flow and keep the peace in the moment. However, is it actually keeping the peace if the price is carrying around resentment for what could be a very long time? Especially if that resentment can damage your relationship with the person you were trying to keep the peace with in the first place?
Finding that resentment, getting to the root of it, and addressing it in a constructive way can help you improve your communication skills, your relationships, and your ability to speak up when you need to, instead of choosing silence and spiraling into feeling unheard and stuck.
There is research data that shows that a person having greater involvement in decisions improves their quality of life. With that thought in mind, why not consciously choose greater involvement in conflict decision making to improve your role as a conflict responder as well as your quality of life? Deciding to acknowledge your conflict baggage is a great place to start.
Consider that, to the extent that you’re able to navigate conflict, you expand your opportunities to improve conflict outcomes. Improved outcomes increase personal conflict effectiveness. But first you must figure out when, where, how and why your conflict baggage is holding you back from improving conflict outcomes.
Addressing conflict baggage can be a long process. Sometimes it’s as easy as making sure you address issues as they come up. Other baggage can be hard work to unpack. But, the more you unpack, the less you have to carry, and the more you discover about yourself, what you need, and how to get it before you or the issues boil over.
Curiosity is the place to start. So, to get started on the right foot in 2018, here are some Ponder Points regarding what you may be carrying forward:
What topics/issues/people make you feel resentful or defensive?
How do you tend to react when you interact with hurtful or potentially harmful issues?
What is at least one feeling or behavior that you want to change in the new year?
Starting small is important. For now, just consider the three questions above. See what comes up. Share your answers with us in the comments or by email. Let us know if you have any questions.