Conflict can be very difficult for people. Our negative connotations create anxiety when contemplating an approach to address our unmet needs within our home, workplace and society. The preconceived notion of conflict being a win or lose collision with others guides us to great lengths to avoid the cognitive and emotional stress that accompanies it. Conflict can manifest at a low intensity, escalate to anger and aggression, and influence people to do unrecoverable damage to their relationships.
The way we frame conflict has a profound effect on our expectations. Conflict is a natural occurrence when interacting and living with others. It helps us to grow as people, overcome difficulties and strengthen existing associations. Conflict doesn’t always need to carry a negative correlation.
A few of the advantages of managing conflict are:
Promoting Needed Change
Initiating Needed Communication
Bringing More Serious Issues to Light
Conflict is deeper than we usually perceive and our own behavior and attitudes influence our decision making. We may feel unneeded, unappreciated, unsupported or embarrassed to express our needs. The topic may be uncomfortable to address. We may not trust in our ability to keep calm or negotiate. We may have a personality clash with someone or feel anxious of their reaction.
A few of the common strategies people use when managing conflict are:
Avoidance - Walking away, indirectly addressing a problem, giving the silent treatment, sulking, withdrawing, gossiping, blocking or shutting down.
Denial - Pretending there is no obstacle or burying our heads in the sand in an attempt to smooth over a situation. These typically only prolong tension and increase discomfort.
Aggression - Rising emotions, anger, verbal attack, losing sight of common interests, placing an emphasis on winning. This is by far the most maladaptive approach that will automatically put someone on the defensive or make them shut down.
Interaction with others through non-aggressive dialogue.
This method is not usually our first inclination but, it can be quick, efficient, effective and very easy to learn. We can use this daily in a collaborative effort with others. Reaching an agreement is much more likely when we keep an open mind, listen attentively, remain willing to concede points, but also offer an opinion when we disagree. It’s important to make your position known. Here is a brief guideline to use when managing interpersonal conflict.
Source - Distinguish the source. The source determining your problem may not be explicit. You may need to give it some thought. It could be something as simple as being uncomfortable in your current environment, being in a new group of people, or a recurring issue with someone you interact with regularly.
Time and Place - Choosing the correct time to start a conversation is very important. When schedules get busy, it can be difficult to find an opportunity. Choosing a hectic weeknight may not work very well. Avoid public places when having difficult conversations.
Amicable Approach - Start with the positive and express thanks. This is an effective way to get someone’s attention. Say something positive and genuine. Stress that what they do matters. It’s important to get a person’s positive attention. Avoid vague statements that may seem inauthentic.
Behavior - Identify a specific root problem. Be specific with dates, times, numbers and avoid generalized statements. Don’t layer issues on top of each other and attempt to solve them all at once.
Emotion - State how you feel. Sometimes it can be confusing to pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling. If you’re feeling angry, try to reflect on what’s underpinning those feelings. It’s important to personalize your statement with “I felt…”
Need - What do you need to end this conflict? What do you really want? What changes would you like to see? What needs would you like to be met? Try to be specific. Give it some thought before starting a conversation.
Contemplation may take longer than delivery. Obstacles are easier to manage after a dialogue or negotiation has been initiated. Your interests, objectives, values, wishes, desires, needs, feelings, etc. don’t always match with others. The cost of internalizing a problem will always outweigh the benefit, not to mention the indirect cost effecting children, spouses and family members. Resolution starts when you communicate that your needs are not being met. The goal is to have a discussion.
If conflict is too difficult, find a neutral third party to mediate. In the workplace, seek management help if needed. Generally management will be appreciative if you have attempted to address something within the team instead of coming to them with every conflict.