Does anyone benefit from conflict? The dynamics of conflict are the same whether they’re on the battlefield, in business, or at home. Whether those conflicts are foreseen or unexpected, they all involve a jumble of thoughts, feelings, and reactions that can be difficult to manage.
We may be surprised or even shocked that things have or are quickly deteriorating. A sense of safety deserts us. We may feel as if we’re about to be attacked; and as a result, the brain and body fire up adrenaline/anger (our self-preservation mechanisms) which sharpens our defences. Few among us have the wherewithal to calm ourselves down at this point – especially if we don’t have the ability to avoid diving into a conflict someone else is spurring.
Once we’ve taken on anger and defensiveness, we become filled with the implacable desire to win; the need to prove ourselves right; to emerge as the victor. Winning becomes the goal that drives the end game. Now we’re not only enmeshed in the conflict, but ensnared as well.
A win will swell the ego; indeed, we’ll likely crow about it to all who will listen. We’ll even imagine that we’re the ones who benefited. But did we really? How? In what way do you or I benefit from losing our cool? From shooting heart-pounding adrenaline though our bodies? From getting lost in anger? From stressing ourselves?
Did our reactions help us become better people? Did we grow the ability to stay calm?
Did we step back and see things from the other side?
Did we heighten our reasoning powers?
Did we refrain from grinding someone else down, from making someone else the lesser?
Because here’s what we think. If it doesn’t benefit them, it doesn’t truly benefit us.
If we want to achieve resolution; if we want to walk away clean, both sides must benefit from conflict.
Some of us might think that’s just another way of saying ‘win/win’, but win can be a loaded word, given it implies a contest and a loser. It’s hard to look across at someone and want them to win when that’s just about the only thing you want to do.
By all means, use the term win/win if it works for you. But if it doesn’t – and it doesn’t for many people – take a breath and look at who is benefiting.
When the other person you’re dealing with is heavily invested in winning, remember that you have options. You can say: “Let’s take a breather and revisit this again when we’re both calmer.” Or you could incorporate the following technique. It’s pretty-well foolproof.
Many counsellors, therapists, and coaches know that learning new skills is key if clients are to change their approach to conflict. One of the most important new skills shows how profound change can happen by simply having someone summarize the other person’s point of view, prefaced by phrases like: “If I understood you correctly, ‘x’ and ‘y’ are what upset you most…” or “So, what you’re saying is….”
When you summarize someone’s point of view (we call it paraphrasing) it accomplishes at least 3 good things:
1. It allows them to clarify what they’ve said;
2. It tells them you’re listening and trying to understand them;
3. It makes sure you’ve properly understood them, so you don’t waste your time and energy trying to address the wrong issue.
And when they do the same for you, it allows them to gain a clear understanding about your reactions and why you’ve taken the stance you have. It moves the issue away from the fight and from the person; it allows clarity all way ‘round, and it seeds meaningful change. As such, it is a superb skill to master.
So much of how we handle conflict depends on the kind of pressures we’re under, the volume of work that lies ahead, the kind mood we’re in, and more importantly, the level of skill we have in altering our approaches, and the discipline to resolve or at very least, to accept differing ideas or opinions. Needless to say, all of this is based upon the unconscious patterns we learned in childhood; how we saw our parents handle (or not handle) conflict, and so on.
We believe it’s definitely worth developing these skills, because conflict is normal and even necessary.
It exposes issues that are simmering underneath, and it can clean and heal hurt. Conflict can help us grow and become better people; it can lead to change for the better; and if handled well, it can deepen our connections with others.
And then can we all benefit from conflict.
For another article which may help with conflict, check out Compromise: A Matter of Perspective.
Connect with Peter Hiddema on LinkedIn.