Managing Conflict With Courage

header feathersGuest Post by Samantha Villegas, APR

courageIt’s been said public relations is one of the most stressful careers to have. And no wonder. Few professions are more fraught with impossible deadlines, higher stakes, faster speeds, and crazier conflicts. Nothing derails a job, a project, or even a career faster than conflict. If you Google “conflict resolution” you can find many suggestions for managing or even diffusing it.

What’s often missing from this guidance, however, is what I found to be a core ingredient to effective conflict diffusion, and one of the most critical traits required in public relations: courage.

Case In Point

Just recently a client of mine who is senior manager of public affairs at a large company became aware of a potential crisis. She laid out the problem for me and asked my advice. I told her what she needed to do – which of course involved laying it out for the Big Boss, along with a plan for prevention and/or mitigation. Still, the senior manager sat, wringing her hands.

“The Big Boss won’t like this,” she said. “The Big Boss won’t do this,” she said. I assured her that our job isn’t to make sure the Big Boss makes all the correct decisions. Our job is to make sure the Big Boss has all the information and guidance needed to make the correct decisions.

Crisis of Courage

I see this all the time. This senior manager was an intelligent, confident person. What kept her from taking this important step? She knew her company faced a serious crisis, and she knew her own reputation was on the line. So why was she hesitating? I believe it was a momentary lack of courage.

So, how does one obtain the courage to meet and resolve conflict? Here are five steps to consider:

  1. Acknowledge you have fear. We all have fears about certain things, based on a previous negative experience with them. Think about where the fear stems from. What happened in your past to create the fear? Recalling it and recognizing that it exists is the first step in tackling it.
  2. Recognize you have courage. Everyone has some courage. Explore other areas of your life where you took some risks and remind yourself that courage is within in you. You just need to apply it to this other area in your life.
  3. Script it. To face a fear, break it down into smaller steps that aren’t so scary. Write a script for not just what you will say but also what you will do. Envisioning clearly how it will all play out is a key way to diffuse fear, because we now have the path we will take, and we have anticipated and planned for our reaction to the negative aspects of the action.
  4. Embrace risks and possible failure. Avoiding failure is one of the most paralyzing things we can do. But failing is the first step to success. Look at failure as a possibility for growth and not a life sentence of mediocrity. Once you flip failure to a positive, it will enable you to take some calculated risks and move through your fear.
  5. Relax. Above all else, relax a little. Relaxing a bit on the job can be empowering. We sometimes take our work so seriously we forget to have fun. We forget to enjoy it. And, we miss clues and opportunities to further our success.

Conflict pervades all aspects of our lives, and is a prominent part of practicing public relations. Too many of us let fear blind us from pushing through. We therefore avoid conflict and dwell in – or lumber through – impossible situations or uncomfortable circumstances. Courage is the antidote. We just have to take the first step.

Samantha Villegas is President of SaVi PR, LLC, an independent public relations consultancy, based outside of Washington, DC. She can be reached at