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Welcoming conflict might sound counterintuitive. For many of us, conflict is a plague that should be avoided at all costs, whereas others have a “come-at-me-bro” kind of attitude about it.
But whether you’re a conflict magnet or a harmony-seeking human, when you get a bunch of people together — whether it’s at home (let’s say, during the holidays), at work (in an overpopulated office with small cubicles), or at play (during a regular Sunday soccer match), you can bet conflict will occur sooner or later.
This includes your family members, colleagues, employees, employers, friends and, possibly your mechanic and your fellow commuter. And when disagreement walks in (“you should’ve passed me the ball!”), blaming comes along with it, whether in the form of passive aggression (“yeah, I’m sure you would’ve scored that goal, wouldn’t you?”) or in open argument.
Even if you do everything you can to keep your immediate environment at peace, at some point some conflict will arise, and I hate to burst your bubble, but kindness isn’t necessarily a guarantee for harmony. But this is natural and shouldn’t lead to frustration or self-blaming (“Oh, I should’ve been more understanding, more caring, more patient,” or “I should’ve passed him the ball!”).
Conflict is natural to humans so it should be dealt with naturally. It can even be (again, this seems counterintuitive) a good thing. Shying away from conflict isn’t a solution. In fact, avoiding it is what turns a simple conflict into a problem. We must deal with it as soon as possible before it escalates. That is, we must “welcome” it.
What conflict reveals is, simply, disagreement. And disagreement often leads to great ideas, better ways to understand each other, simpler ways to tackle problems, new perspectives, fresher strategies, and new opportunities. What conflict tries to say is that there’s a new situation emerging, like — and I apologize for this much-abused cliché — a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.
To allow conflict to give birth to better situations, we must deal with it directly and not just allow it to erupt. That can only be done with proper listening and adequate talking. Solving conflicts require granting the parties involved time to talk (adhering to certain rules) and time to listen to each other (again, certain conditions must apply). To make sure conflict will be dealt with properly, communication must be adequate. This basically means:
1. Every person involved must be given time to say what they feel they need to say.
2. But that “saying” must focus on the problem at hand (and not in past situations or personality attacks).
3. Conversations are about talking and listening, so put down the smartphones.
4. Conversation must end in some kind of agreement; otherwise, it’s just venting.
Avoiding conflict won’t lead to agreements that help the parties sort things out. As conflict is part of life, we better learn to identify it, welcome it, deal with it, and overcome it. Of course, specific kinds of conflict require different approaches: it’s one thing to deal with conflict at home or at the soccer court, but another to deal with it at work, where other tools are often needed. Institutional conflicts often acquire the shape of power dynamics, conflicts of interest, and ideology. Not every conflict can be solved using the very same techniques, and that’s the reason there are specialists devoted to specific areas of problem-solving.
Nevertheless, dealing with conflict, whether it’s at home, work, or play, always moves in the realm of conversation. “It is essential to remember that communication is, above all, the expression and recognition of intentions between two subjects,” notes Dr. Javier Fiz Pérez, psychology professor at the European University of Rome, and a Delegate for International Scientific Development for the European Scientific Institute of Positive Psychology, IEPP. “The individual’s cognitive and emotional environment is a decisive aspect in the creation of an effective communicative exchange that allows each person to choose the most appropriate information for that situation. Human beings can communicate only when there is a will to do it; otherwise, we are speaking about ‘information’ instead of ‘communication.’”
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