READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.
“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict -alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.” —Dorothy Thompson
Most people try to avoid conflict at all costs. It is a dreaded predicament in human relationships. Thinking about what you said has kept many people awake at night. Couples whom I work with in therapy play games, lots of different types of games, in order to avoid conflict. It is common for one or both to be passive, passive-avoidant, or passive-aggressive to avoid addressing conflict.
In every organization, there are unspoken rules that govern the way to deal with conflict. It is important to know the rules, unspoken and unwritten, within the organization in order to navigate conflict. You will need to know who has the power and what is expected within the organization when there is disagreement. Unspoken assumptions usually result in hurt feelings. People who don’t know the cryptic rules in the game of conflict often find themselves scrambling for a light switch in a dark room, trying to figure out the blueprint for conflict resolution. It can be frustrating and humiliating.
Conflict requires direct communication. Contrary to common consensus, fighting is an important component in the cultivation of healthy connections through communication. The operative understanding is a focus on fair, not unfair, fighting. Agree on the subject, share concrete observations, thoughts, and interpretations, clarify feelings, emphasize wants, needs, expectations, listen, summarize, and you have a great start toward conflict resolution. The more direct you are the better the possibility of resolution.
Conflict requires rules for fair fighting. You create them with the person you want to communicate. You can make the rules with one or many, depending on the context. The governing principle is preserving an “I care about you” environment. If you don’t care about the other person don’t have the conversation. Fight fair rules include avoiding name-calling, voice tones, body language, words that connote condescension, domination, interruption, finishing sentences, grand exits, anger/rage explosions, threat talk, etc. Each entity can determine its own rules to guide the communication about conflict. The idea is simple. Not if, but when a rule is broken, the conversation is stopped until the offending party makes amends for the infraction and then you continue. With highly contested issues, the conversation may go slow. However, it often results in a shortcut, given the prospects of unfair fighting.
Once each party has been heard, mutual understanding is the common result. Then, two parties can brainstorm separately, then together, a collaboration or compromise that resolves the conflict. It is simple, not easy.
Codependency is a common flaw that disrupts the process of conflict resolution. Essentially, trying to control what other people think or feel usually accelerates the conflict without resolution. Fearing rejection, desperately wanting approval, and trying to avoid facing difficult emotions are often like pouring gasoline on the fires of stress and tension in a relationship conflict.
Here are a few considerations to prepare you to successfully address conflict:
1. Cultivate a proper attitude toward relationship conflict. If your position is to avoid relationship conflict at all costs, you will most likely be plagued with some degree of intimacy disability throughout your life. If you are charismatic, progressive in thought and manner, and articulate with those thoughts but overwhelmingly concerned with what other people think and can’t stand disapproval, please avoid positions of leadership. Positions of influence require that you stand for principle in the presence of disapproval. It requires that you cultivate acceptance that conflict resolution is a significant responsibility at every level of leadership. Conflict resolution requires that you let go of control of others, places, and things. No small task.
2. Surrender willfulness and embrace willingness. Addicts are not the only people who want what they want when they want it. Willfulness expresses my way or the highway. Some people use nice agreeable language to hide their willfulness. It just doesn’t solve a conflict. An attitude of willingness lessens the grip of control and opens one’s heart to understanding and the desire to brainstorm collaboration and possibility.
3. Let go of power over and incorporate power within and power with. Power-over uses coercion, force, and domination to accomplish its end. It’s like throwing a 5-gallon bucket of dirt on one small weed, thinking that you have solved your weed problem. Sooner or later, not one but many weeds poke their head to the surface of the dirt. Power-over dynamics creates “haves” and “have-nots” and fuels resentment and discord. Power within involves people having a sense of their own capacity and self-worth. Power-with is energy when faced with conflict. It is a concept that sustains community and cultivates conflict resolution. It is a shared power that grows out of collaboration and relationships. It is built on respect, mutual support, shared power, solidarity, influence, empowerment, and collaborative decision-making. It helps to resolve conflict and build bridges within families, organizations, and social change movements across differences (e.g., gender, culture, class). It cultivates the concept of power within.
Conflict is a necessary reality in the community of human relationships. Rather than ignore, avoid, or minimize its presence, may we learn to embrace it and direct its energy toward healing connection in relationships in families, organizations, and communities around the world.