If compliments give us the warm and fuzzies, would it be fair to say criticism gives us the cold and clammies? Still, there’s a reason we are familiar with the sentiment that our way to the desirable stations in life is through some undesirable ones. It’s a familiar theme across religious traditions, philosophical studies, and popular culture, to boot. Think “No pain, no gain” or “the obstacle is the way.”
Stephen Colbert borrowed a quote from JRR Tolkien in a conversation with Anderson Cooper, saying, “What punishments of God are not gifts?” They were sharing their experiences around grief and loss with Cooper having recently lost his mom and Colbert drawing on the loss of his brothers and dad when he was 10.
If we have a little bit of cynicism or are in the midst of a challenge (i.e.-not to a place of objectivity yet), we might be finding ourselves asking the same question Cooper did: “Do you really believe that?”
After what appears to be an almost apologetic pause, Colbert says, “Yes, it’s a gift to exist. And with that comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.”
While the context of the conversation is about something with much higher stakes than the kind of discomforts that show up on our door on a daily basis, the principle is worth considering in all of our perceived “punishments.”
Whether it’s in our own personal lives or for our business, how can we lean into the discomfort of conflict and bring something valuable out on the other side?
Follow These Easy Steps to Embrace Discomfort as a Gift
- Reframe conflict. If you’re on a sports team, your coach will only invest in you if they believe in your potential to grow. If you’re a perpetual bench warmer, you might never hear a raised voice in your direction. In relationships, if you feel there’s no hope for change, you might stop bringing up the challenges. An absence of external conflict doesn’t mean an absence of internal conflict (there’s a Martin Luther King quote for that). So when someone comes to you with a complaint or an uncomfortable topic, you can take comfort knowing that this is the opportunity to grow. Complaints and conflicts should be embraced with the same anticipation and curiosity as if received in a beautifully-wrapped little box. It’s a second chance to get things right. When a customer or a friend doesn’t feel it’s worth investing the time and energy to bring a conflict up, that’s when there’s real trouble.
- Thank the gift giver. When someone gives you a gift you should, of course, express gratitude. In order to do so with authenticity, you have to truly see the benefit and opportunity in the feedback. If you don’t see it that way, work on your mindset. The highest form of gratitude you can convey is to address the problem. If a customer or a friend brings up something you could do better, tell them what you have done or will do to acknowledge and address the mistake. This makes it easier for the gift-giver to come back again with a new gift.
- Keep the end goal in mind. If you remember that what you do want is on the other side of this conflict, it’ll give you some measure of comfort in the midst of the discomfort. You’ll turn a conflict into a bonding agent that will strengthen your connection in both professional and personal relationships.
The Bottom Line
Handle conflict well and you’ll turn that discomfort into something valuable. That’s a great gift!