Conflict & Connection: Be Right or Be Connected

Connection or being right – that’s often the binary in conversation (especially in conflict).  Have you noticed that most of what people discuss these days is an effort to prove themselves right and another wrong?  Have you noticed this in your own “conversations”?  I definitely have in mine.   Being partly RED on the Color Code personality spectrum, I LOVE being right.  LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it.  It feels safe. Right. It feels so good.  It feels powerful.  And its lonely.

And I Want Connection

That’s what I’ve found with most of my conversations and conflicts with others.  I want to be connected.  They want to feel understood.  But we’re both playing the “I’m right” game.  in Kelly Bryson’s book, “Don’t Be Nice, Be Real,” he states that we have a choice: we can either be right or we can be connected to the other.  Makes sense right? But why is it that way?

I found an answer in the Gottman Institute’s “Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse for Relationships”.  They outline four critical behaviors that spell doom for a relationship.  Those are:

  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling

I found that being right is a defensiveness strategy. Its a wall against vulnerability of being wrong and being exposed to possible humiliation, further criticism and even rejection.  What often happens when we are insisting on being right, though?   I feel isolated!  Its awkward. There’s a bit of shame that I tend to carry post-conversation.  All because I was not willing to trust that I could be seen and respected by the other person (and unwilling to see and respect them for where they’re at).  I inadvertently set myself up for fulfilling what I wanted to avoid.

Getting Connected

Connection requires a few ingredients before it can show up.   Its also important to note that connection is a feeling.  A sensation in our senses and body that we’re understood and seen by the other AND we’re letting that in.  We cannot expect to connect if we’re unwilling to receive what is offered.  Here are the ingredients to effective Connection:

  • Vulnerability: we’re willing to be wrong AND we’re willing to be seen, heard and to receive what is given
  • Desire to Understand:  This requires us to effective questions (how do you feel, what are your thoughts, will you tell me more about..).  Open ended questions are most effective
  • Inclusion: Willingness to consider that their point of view is valid, too
  • Empathy: Respond to the emotions being expressed non-verbally and verbally (this is where connection really happens)
  • Acknowledgement: We’re willing to concede when we’re wrong, we’re open to feedback, and we’re willing to validate their equality (even if we disagree)
  • Emotional Management: we’re willing to pause the conversation if it gets too heated; we will own our emotions and needs in that moment;  we will disengage as needed with a polite, “I need some space so I can think about this.  I’ll get back to you on this when I am ready.”  (note: this is not a stonewalling tactic.  Disengagement is a reasonable response and choice.  Respect it when this happens, as its a display of self-control and maturity and respect for everyone involved)

The Mindset, Skillset, and Action of Connection

These steps are often very difficult to transact (especially in conflict) because we’re not practiced in it, and we tend to let emotions lead the way.  This is where our Mindset, Skillsets, and Actionsets come into play:

  • Mindset:  Curiosity and Inclusiveness – this lowers our defenses and takes pressure off ourselves to stand out.  We can be more receptive and teachable, as well as aware of ways we can constructively contribute to the other person; we cultivate a sense of centeredness and presence within ourselves and this allows us to feel more safe and secure in vulnerable circumstances
  • Skillset:  Active listening, Assertive questions, Tone and Word-choice control
  • Actionset:  Being willing to face conflict, engage it with assertive, open-ended questions, and receptivity to feedback.  Literally practice listening without correcting. Look for the emotional component, acknowledge it kindly, and connect there

What I’ve found this really comes down to is we want to feel comfortable and safe.  Being right appears to provides that. Unfortunately, though, it is a pseudo-safety, as we have made connection with another precarious, uncomfortable, and awkward.  We’ve lost what really matters most in our relationships: feeling like we matter to them, and they feeling like they matter to us.

Seems Ideal, Doesn’t It?

I know this may all sound like pie-in-the-sky.  That’s ok.  It is attainable, though.  You can witness for yourself how conflict shifts from tension to care through deliberate practice of active listening and empathizing, .  I guess what I’m say here is: don’t believe me.  Do it for yourself.  Find out for your own experience.

All this said, there is a space for being right.  That comes, though, after the other person feels that you care about them and their needs, and they’re open to guidance (or vice versa – they can be right and we can be receptive to constructive guidance).  Make connection your first priority, though.

Now I’m off to personally work on improving my expertise in this (just last week I failed to do this!).

Your coach and badass friend,



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