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Essays Personal Courage And Conflict

Personal Courage and Conflict Resolution at Work

Why People Avoid Conflict Resolution

Practicing personal courage is necessary if you want to successfully resolve conflicts at work. It is much easier and much safer to ignore the necessary conflict and play ostrich. Unfortunately, unresolved conflict tends to escalate. It never really disappears because it simmers just below the surface.

Think of water that is coming to a boil. It bubbles up in the pot sporadically and then finally reaches the boiling temperature.

At that point, a full-blown rolling, constant boiling is seen on the surface of the water.

Conflict behaves similarly. The water may seem calm, but every once in awhile, usually at the worst possible times, the conflict bubbles up to the surface once again. Unresolved conflict does not go away; unresolved conflict can turn into a full boil at any time.

Many people are afraid of conflict resolution. They feel threatened by it because they may not get what they want if the other party gets what they want. Even in the best circumstances, conflict resolution is uncomfortable because people are usually unskilled at managing conflict. Finally, people can get hurt in a conflict and, at work, they are still expected to work together effectively every day.

The Benefits of Conflict Resolution

This century's workplace makes conflict resolution more important, but also, more difficult. Team or work cell environments create more conflict as people with different opinions must choose to work together, often in close quarters.

Empowering work environments, in which the traditional reliance on a manager to solve conflicts and make decisions, bring co-workers into more frequent conflict, as they must work issues out for themselves. Conflict resolution also:

  • Results in increased participation and more ownership of and commitment to the decisions and goals of the group or person.

The goal of the people or the team is not to eliminate conflict but to learn how to manage conflict constructively.

You've decided resolving the conflict is more important than all of the reasons why people avoid conflict. Here are tips to help you practice less scary, less intimidating, more effective and successful conflict resolution, with an individual or a team.

Resolve the Conflict

  • Create an environment that is conducive to successful conflict resolution. Quiet, private settings work the best. Agree prior to sitting down together that the purpose of the meeting is to resolve the conflict. When you make this agreement, all parties arrive prepared.
  • Determine what outcomes you'd like to see as a result of the discussion. A better working relationship? A better solution to the problem? Increased alternatives for successful projects? A broadened understanding of each person's needs and wants? Thoughtful solutions and outcomes are infinite if you are creative.
  • Begin by allowing each party to express their point of view. The purpose of the exchange is to make sure both parties clearly understand the viewpoint of the other. Make sure each party ties their opinions to real performance data and other facts, where possible. This is not the time to discuss; it is the time to ask questions, clarify points for better understanding and truly hear the other's viewpoint.
  • Agree on the difference in the points of view. You must agree on the problem together to begin to search for a solution. Often problems are simply misunderstandings. Clarification can end the need for conflict resolution. Try to focus on the issues, not the personalities of the participants. Don't you each other as in, "You always ..."
  • Explore and discuss potential solutions and alternatives. Try to focus on both your individual needs and wants and those of the other party. After all,if one party wins, that means the other party loses. People who feel as if they have lost, are not effective co-workers.
    They harbor resentment and may even sabotage your project or relationship. Make sure you discuss the positive and negative possibilities of each suggestion before you reject any suggested solutions. Build a discussion that is positive and powerful for all parties.
  • Agree on a plan that meets the needs of all parties and the organization. Agree on follow-up steps, as necessary, to make the plan work. Agree on what each person will do to solve the conflict. Set clear goals and know how you will measure success.
  • Do what you agreed to do.

With more experience in conflict resolution, you will grow more comfortable with conflict resolution. That's a positive outcome for the workplace. It will foster idea generation, help people get along, minimize negative behaviors and promote the success of all in placing their attention where it belongs - on the customer.

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courageous people do feel fear, but they are able to manage and overcome their fear so that it does not stop them taking action.

They often use the fear to ensure that they are not overly-confident and that they take the appropriate actions.

How do they manage this? They have trained themselves to manage their emotional response to fear, so that they manage it rather than it managing them. This page sets out how you can learn to do this.

What is Courage?

Courage is a highly-prized virtue, and many famous and respected people have spoken or written about it over the years. We probably all have an idea of what we mean by courage, or bravery as it is sometimes known.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Nelson Mandela

Courageous people stand up against things that threaten them or the things or people that they care about. They take action in a way that is consistent with their values. Sometimes, however, the action required is not necessarily loud, but quiet and thoughtful.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

Winston Churchill

The other view that is often taken of courage is that it requires the taking of genuine risk, but with thought.

Courage and being brave is not about blindly rushing in, but thinking about it and then doing it anyway if it is necessary.

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

T. S. Eliot

The Benefits of Courage

Acting courageously generally makes us feel good, because it involves mastering emotions.

The very fact that we celebrate courage so much tells us that it is a very human activity. Courage, in the sense of acting in a way that responds to risk appropriately, not over-confidently or in a cowardly way, will also help us to accomplish ‘good’ things.

Courage also helps us to act against those who threaten, or who act in a bad way. The Western world has traditionally revered bravery for itself; success is not necessary if courage is shown.

An Example of Courage

The celebration of bravery as an end in itself is seen in the celebration in the UK of Robert Falcon Scott, a man who not only failed in his mission to get to the South Pole first, but died on the way back, along with three of his team.

Spectacular failure, but unmistakeable courage: he (and they) knew the risks, yet chose to go ahead with their expedition anyway.

Courage Governs and Overcomes Fear and Overconfidence

Fear and overconfidence are generally viewed as undesirable emotions. They make us feel bad, either at the time or afterwards.


Fear, like many emotions, is closely linked to survival.

We are afraid of things that threaten our survival, and our reaction is governed by an adrenaline response (which usually means that we are driven to ‘fight’ or ‘flight’). The physical effects of adrenaline include cold, clammy skin, as the blood is withdrawn to the vital organs to enable you to run away fast, the sensation of ‘butterflies’ in the stomach, shivering or trembling, and even chattering teeth.

Being afraid tells you when you are concerned that you may not survive something. However, as our page on Managing Emotions points out, your emotional response may not be rational. It is almost certainly linked to memory, perhaps a past experience, or something you may have read.

Questions to ask yourself to bring courage into play include:

  • What am I actually afraid of? Is it the right thing to be afraid of? Should I be this afraid of it – or rationally, should I be less or more afraid?
  • What harm can this thing actually do to me or others?
  • What are the things that could happen as a result of my actions and/or inactions?
  • What is the worst that could happen has a result of my actions and/or inactions?
  • What are the risks to me and to others?

Courage gives us the strength to evaluate an emotional response (fear) and act rationally and rightly.


Confidence is good.

Confidence gives us the power to act on our convictions, have faith in ourselves or in others, and take action. Over-confidence however, means that we may be too ready to take action, and take unnecessary risks.

Over-confidence is harder to identify than fear, because it’s a very positive feeling. Confidence feels good, and so does over-confidence. We don’t feel afraid, because we have not properly evaluated the risks.

To help to identify and overcome over-confidence, questions to ask yourself include:

  • What do I believe I can achieve?
  • How will what I do make a difference?
  • How do I know that my actions will have an effect? How can I be sure that they will not do any harm?

Answering these questions rationally, and not with bravado, will help you to evaluate whether you are feeling rightly confident, or over-confident.

Fear and Over-Confidence are Two Sides of the Same Coin.

It is important to know whether you tend to suffer from fear or over-confidence, so that you can work on how to overcome that weakness, ensuring that you act courageously, and not either be overcome by your fears or take unnecessary risks because of over-confidence.

Developing Courage, According to Aristotle

Aristotle suggested that those who tend towards fear should think through how they can practise greater confidence, and those who tend towards risky behaviour should consider how they can learn greater respect for the real risks and dangers of a situation.

“The man, then, who faces and who fears the right things and with the right aim, and in the right way and at the right time, and who feels confidence under the corresponding conditions, is brave.”

Aristotle, (1115b15-19) NE III.7

Finding a Balance

Showing courage, as opposed to either cowardice or cockiness/over-confidence, is all about finding the right balance, which means that you need to think it through beforehand.

Ultimately, perhaps the question to ask yourself is:

How will I feel when I look back on this? Will I feel that I have acted in accordance with my values?

If the answer to the question is that you will be comfortable that you have done what is right, and is consistent with your values, then that is a good way to act.

On the other hand, if you’re concerned that you will feel that you ‘ran away’ or ‘were a bit reckless’, then you might want to think about alternative actions.

Crucially, try not to let your emotions, whether fear or over-confidence, get the better of you, but think rationally about what you want to do, and what is the right thing to do in the situation.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence

Learn more about emotional intelligence and how to effectively manage personal relationships at home, at work and socially.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.

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