If you are reading this now (the date is March 2020), I hope that you are doing ok and staying healthy and safe. I recognize this email comes during unprecedented and difficult times as we face the COVID-19 crisis together.
These are challenging days. You may be working from home, looking for work while in quarantine, or wondering when everything will get back to… well, normal? These times of conflict can draw out the best in us, as a society, but they also challenge us to dig deep to face our own fears, and deal with each day as it comes.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been doing the hard work of introspection on a topic that is so relevant in these times: conflict
Perhaps you are facing new changes to relationships in your life – whether rubbing shoulders with family or colleagues in new ways? In turn, these conflicts may be negatively impacting your sense of job satisfaction and career well-being. Here are some examples of what I mean by this...
THREE EXAMPLES OF CONFLICT
You have an unsustainable work load. Your load has become even more stressful now that you are trying to figure out how to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but when you talk to your boss about it, he gets defensive because you’ve made it clear that you don’t think he cares as much as he should about your needs. Conflict.
Your spouse confides in you about feeling demoralized in her home-based coaching business, especially given dwindling client leads and having to care for children during school closures. She feels like giving up and looking for a different job, but instead of empathizing, you launch into all the reasons why she needs to stay strong, given the urgency of mortgage payments and credit card debt. Conflict.
You’ve always dreamed of helping young people learn resiliency skills by becoming a Youth Worker, and you are currently taking online courses in that field, but your family keeps telling you to get a “real job” that pays more. Conflict.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Can you relate? In each case, conflict is a symptom or a cause of real career pain, and how one navigates those conflicts directly impacts their sense of satisfaction and well-being.
To be honest, there are no quick fixes to scenarios like these. Most conflicts are managed (not completely solved) and it takes hard work to navigate them.
I’d like to share some helpful ways to deal with these three conflicts, but first, allow me to share about my own personal story, what my journey through conflict has meant to me, and how it relates to being a Career Coach.
MY PERSONAL STORY
I grew up fearing conflict. For various reasons during childhood, I developed a core belief that conflict was bad. And as a teenager, I often wondered why other people didn’t fear conflict the way I did. In fact, others seemed to handle conflict in ways that seemed to strengthen, not diminish, their relationships!
And so I was mystified: how can people go through the same kinds of conflicts yet experience radically different outcomes for the health of their relationships?
The Gottmans rocked my world. Their research yielded a simple but profound truth that I had not fully considered before: conflict does not destroy relationships. It’s how you deal with conflict that matters.
RELATIONSHIP MASTERS AND DISASTERS
Based on decades of longitudinal research, the Gottmans observed two main conflict styles that determined whether people were "masters" or "disasters" at managing conflict.
Here’s what they discovered: “disasters” are those who’d got defensive, attacked the character and motivations of others, took the moral high ground, or shut down emotionally when they felt overwhelmed. They were disasters because they didn’t know how to offer and respond to bids for connection during relationship stress and so conflict never got repaired.
But the “masters” were able to transform conflicts for the better. They stayed humble, curious, open to influence, and took ownership of their part in conflicts. They addressed hurtful behavior without attacking people’s character or attributing bad motives to them. And they understood how to regulate their own emotions instead of blaming others.
To be clear, the masters were not experts at getting conflict right. They were wise in making things right when they messed up. And they did mess up, plenty of times (!!), as the Gottmans observed again and again. However, the difference was, masters knew how to repair conflict through amends, reassurance, and reciprocating bids for connection.
A PERSONAL CHALLENGE TO ME
These amazing insights from the Gottmans were life-changing but very challenging for me! When I first came across this stuff, I felt a bit deflated. I knew I was close to being a disaster. I needed to change, not only to deprogram my childhood beliefs about conflict, but also to become the kind of person who repairs relationships well. To this day, I’d still say I’m a work in progress, but I’m certainly much closer to my goal.
I’m happy to say that my encounter with the Gottman’s research has been a huge asset for my work as a Career Coach. When I support clients experiencing career dissatisfaction, I often notice just how much their perceptions are impacted by conflicts in their professional and family life.
Nevertheless, I have found the work of John and Julia Gottman particularly helpful in alleviating some of the career pain caused by these conflicts, and I happily refer my coaching clients to appropriate health professionals who can help them work through those struggles.
APPLYING GOTTMAN WISDOM TO CAREER CONFLICTS
While I’m not a relationship therapist (and I’m cautious about giving advice in that area) here’s what I think the Gottmans might say about the conflict scenarios I mentioned at the beginning of this post. These are just suggestions, to be sure, should you find yourself struggling in similar ways:
Instead of telling your boss he doesn’t care, reduce defensiveness by addressing the specific issue of overwork as you are now operating from home, all the while acknowledging the ways he’s been supportive in the past.
Instead of downplaying your spouse’s feelings of overwhelm about her business and childcare demands, remain open to her influence. Even if it’s not an ideal time to change jobs during a global pandemic (though there are good options out there!), validate her feelings and have an honest conversation without making judgments. Agree with your spouse to meet with a financial advisor to see if saving, streamlining, or side-hustling can build enough of a financial cushion for a job change.
If you choose a career path that goes against your family’s wishes, be curious about the root of their disapproval and validate the good parts of their motivation (were they Canadian immigrants who worked long hours to give you the opportunities they never had?)
TAP INTO YOUR POWER
I’ll say it again: the above suggestions are just that - suggestions - not magic solutions to conflict. They may or may not be helpful depending on circumstances. And they might not work if others are not open to influence from you. But the good news is that you can influence your side of the equation. You can tap into your power and work on yourself as you navigate the stresses caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic, and changing yourself is a big step in the right direction.
How do I know this? I know this because I’ve experienced similar changes in my own life and career. As a result, I no longer shy away from conflict it like I used to. I’ve learned to lean into conflict and see it through to the other side as much as I can. So I know that you can change like I have.
Anyway, I hope this blog post finds you well. May you stay healthy and safe as we ride out these difficult times together!
Thomas Rauchenstein MA, CDP
Career Coach, Career Change Consultant
(Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here for information if you would like to book a virtual career coaching session with me. I'm open for business online only at this time, but I'm here to support you during this crisis)