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Adopt a curious approach when you're dealing with conflict

Let's be honest: Most women are fantastic conflict avoiders. We walk away, pretend it didn't happen, act like everything is fine, ignore the issue - the list goes on and on. We do almost anything not to converse about the conflict with the individual(s) involved.

So what's your excuse?

There are plenty: It's risky. It might result in more pain. They might not like me anymore. I might not "win." It's scary. I don't know how to have this conversation. And so on. When we're faced with conflict, we can handle it more effectively by using the correct brain. We all have two brains.

Brain number one is an emotional, all-powerful brain.

Emotions can be a wonderful human asset, but they generally are not effective when allowed to control conflict situations.

Brain number two is a rational brain capable of solving problems and effectively navigating difficult conversations. Given that description, you can probably guess which of your brains is more useful in conflict.

The best leaders know how to harness their rational mind, even in the heat of conflict. They can discuss tough subjects with others and ultimately end up with a better or more creative outcome as a result.

Guess what? You have the power to tap into your rational mind just like these leaders, whether or not you consider yourself to walk among them. You can handle tough situations more effectively with a simple brain readjustment. The secret? Curiosity.

Curiosity won't solve your conflict, but it will engage your rational mind and allow for a more productive and effective conversation. With curiosity, you approach a situation as someone who is willing to learn as opposed to someone who is making a judgment. Who would you rather talk to? The person who wants to learn from you, or the person who has already decided what you think and feel?

The curious approach to conflict calls for you to do the following:

Abandon your assumptions. We can make snap judgments in the blink of an eye. We decide why something happened and who is likely at fault. We narrate someone else's feelings before they have a chance to share them, assign blame and predict the outcomes. By abandoning any and all assumptions, we approach the situation with an attitude of curiosity and humility. We can listen to the other person's explanation of their own thoughts and acknowledge that we may not know the whole story. I can't tell you how many times, when I have approached a situation with curiosity instead of judgment, my original assumptions were surprisingly incorrect.

Avoid playing the win-lose game, otherwise known as, "I'm right and you're wrong." When that tape is playing in our heads, either consciously or unconsciously, it is impossible to have a rational conversation. With a curious approach, it becomes possible that we are both right, we are both wrong, or that there is another option altogether.

Explore solutions together. Generally, approaching a conflict with an outcome in mind isn't really solving anything. It is simply forcing our decision on someone else. Curiosity requires that we ask questions. That includes asking the other person for suggestions and problem solving together. Both of you will be able to take ownership and be accountable for improving the situation that caused the conflict.

Don't lock in. If the solution doesn't work, curiosity implores you to think again. Ask what isn't working and try something else. You don't need to lock in one solution as the "one and only" or the hard-and-fast rule. Continuous improvement requires curiosity and creativity.

We can choose to approach conflict with dread, to gossip behind others' backs, to assume we know the answer, to believe there is a right and a wrong or to simply avoid conflict altogether. But we also have the choice to approach these same conflicts with an attitude of curiosity, as an opportunity to learn more, improve a relationship or try something new and creative.

Next time you feel your temperature rise with frustration, tap into your rational mind and use the curious approach. You might be surprised.

Jess Almlie is the assistant director of Student Leadership Development at Concordia College in Moorhead. She has a passion for learning about, developing and practicing leadership.