Menanteau Serfontein – 22 October 2021
Conflict is a normal part of any healthy relationship at home, at work or amongst friends.
Two or more people can’t be expected to agree on everything, all the time. The key is not to fear or try to avoid conflict, but to learn how to resolve it in a constructive way.
When conflict is mismanaged, it can cause great harm to a relationship, but when handled in a respectful, positive way, conflict provides an opportunity to strengthen the bond between people. Whatever the nature of the issue is and wherever conflict is experienced, learning the principles and skills outlined below, can help you to resolve differences in a healthy way, resulting in more rewarding relationships.
What is Conflict?
- A conflict is more than just a disagreement. It is a situation in which one or both parties perceive a threat (whether or not the threat is real).
- Conflicts continue to fester when ignored. Because conflicts involve perceived threats to our well-being and survival, they stay with us until we face and resolve them.
- We respond to conflicts based on our perceptions of the situation, not necessarily to an objective review of the facts. Our perceptions are influenced by our life experiences, culture, values, beliefs and preferences.
- Conflicts trigger strong emotions. If you aren’t comfortable with your own emotions or able to manage them in times of stress, you won’t be able to resolve conflict successfully.
- Conflict is an opportunity for growth. When you’re able to resolve conflict in a relationship, it builds trust. You can feel secure knowing your relationship can survive challenges and disagreements.
Causes of Conflict in a Relationship
Conflict arises from differences, both large and small. It occurs whenever people disagree over their values, motivations, perceptions, ideas, or desires. Sometimes these differences appear trivial, but when a conflict triggers strong feelings and emotions, a deep personal need is often at the core of the problem. These needs can be the need to feel safe and secure, or respected and valued, or the need for greater closeness and intimacy, etc.
The needs of each party play an important role in the long-term success of a relationship. Each deserves respect and consideration. In personal relationships, a lack of understanding about differing needs can result in distance, arguments, and break-ups. In the workplace, differing needs can result in broken deals, partnerships, decreased profits and lost jobs.
When you can recognize conflicting needs and are willing to examine them with compassion and understanding, it can lead to creative problem-solving, team building, and stronger relationships.
How do You Respond to Conflict?
Do you fear conflict or avoid it at all costs? If your perception of conflict comes from painful memories from early childhood or previous unhealthy relationships, you may expect all disagreements to end badly. You may view conflict as demoralizing, humiliating, or something to fear. If your early life experiences left you feeling powerless or out of control, conflict may even be traumatizing for you.
If you’re afraid of conflict, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you enter a conflict situation already feeling threatened, it’s tough to deal with the problem at hand in a healthy way. Instead, you’re more likely to either shut down or blow up in anger.
|Healthy Responses to Conflict
|– An inability to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person.
|– The capacity to empathize with the other person’s viewpoint.
|– Explosive, angry, hurtful and resentful reactions.
|– Calm, non-defensive and respectful reactions.
|– The withdrawal of love, resulting in rejection, isolation, shaming and fear of abandonment.
|– A readiness to forgive and forget, and to move past the conflict without holding resentments or anger.
|– An inability to compromise or see the other person’s side.
|– The ability to seek compromise and avoid punishing the other person.
|– Feeling fearful or avoiding conflict; expecting a bad outcome.
|– A belief that facing conflict head on is the best thing for both sides.
Key Principles for Managing and Resolving Conflict
You can ensure that the process of managing and resolving conflict is as positive as possible by sticking to the following guidelines:
- Listen for what is felt as well as said. When you really listen, you connect more deeply to your own needs and emotions, and to those of other people. Listening also strengthens, informs and makes it easier for others to hear you when it’s your turn to speak.
- Make conflict resolution the priority rather than winning or “being right.” Maintaining and strengthening the relationship, rather than “winning” the argument, should always be your first priority. Be respectful of the other person and their viewpoint.
- Focus on the present. If you’re holding on to grudges based on past conflicts, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the here-and-now to solve the problem.
- Pick your battles. Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worth your time and energy. Maybe you don’t want to surrender a parking space if you’ve been circling for 15 minutes, but if there are dozens of empty spots, arguing over a single space isn’t worth it.
- Be willing to forgive. Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, which can serve only to deplete and drain your life. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32
- Know when to let go of something. If you can’t come to an agreement, “agree to disagree”. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on.
Conflict Resolution, Stress, and Emotions
Conflict triggers strong emotions and can lead to hurt feelings, disappointment and discomfort. When handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable rifts, resentments, and break-ups.
However, when conflict is resolved in a healthy way, it increases your understanding of the other person, builds trust, and strengthens your relationships.
If you are out of touch with your feelings or so stressed that you can only pay attention to a limited number of emotions, you won’t be able to understand your own needs. This will make it hard to communicate with others and establish what’s really troubling you. For example, couples often argue about petty differences—the way she hangs the towels, the way he slurps his soup—rather than what is really bothering them.
The Ability to Successfully resolve conflict Depends on Your Ability To:
- Manage stress quickly while remaining alert and calm. When you become overwhelmed by stress, your response in a conflict situation is typically characterised by:
- anger, agitation, being heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still, or
- withdrawal, you shut down, space out, and show very little energy or emotion,
- or you “freeze” and can’t do anything, you look paralyzed, but under the surface you’re extremely agitated.
Stress interferes with the ability to resolve conflict by limiting your ability to:
- Accurately read another person’s body language.
- Hear what someone is really saying.
- Be aware of your own feelings.
- Be in touch with your own, deep-rooted needs.
- Communicate your needs clearly.
By staying calm and relieve stress in the moment, you can accurately read and interpret verbal and non- verbal communication.
(Read Linked Article on the site entitled “Managing Stress”.)
- Control your Emotions and Behaviour. When you’re in control of your emotions, you can communicate your needs without threatening, intimidating, hurting or punishing others.
To effectively control your emotions, you need Emotional Awareness which is being conscious of your moment-to-moment emotional experience—and the ability to manage all of your feelings appropriately, is the basis of a communication process that can resolve conflict. It is the key to understanding yourself and others. If you don’t know how or why you feel a certain way, you won’t be able to communicate effectively or resolve disagreements.
Emotional awareness helps you to:
- Understand what is really troubling the other people
- Understand yourself, including what is really troubling you
- Stay motivated until the conflict is resolved
- Communicate clearly and effectively
- Interest and influence others
- Pay attention to the feelings being expressed as well as the spoken words of others.
- Be aware of and respect differences. By avoiding disrespectful words and actions, you can almost always resolve a problem faster.
Non-Verbal Communication and Conflict Resolution
When people are in the middle of a conflict, the words they use rarely convey the issues at the heart of the problem – but by paying close attention to the other person’s non-verbal signals or “body language,” such as facial expressions, posture, gestures, and tone of voice, you can better understand what the person is really saying. This will allow you to respond in a way that builds trust and gets to the root of the problem.
(Read Linked Article on the site entitled “Effective Listening”.)
Your ability to accurately read another person, depends on your own emotional awareness. The more aware you are of your own emotions, the easier it will be for you to pick up on the wordless clues that reveal what others are feeling.
Think about what you are transmitting to others during conflict, and if what you say matches your body language. If you say “I’m fine,” but you clench your teeth and look away, then your body is clearly signalling that you are anything but “fine.” A calm tone of voice, a reassuring touch, or an interested facial expression can go a long way toward relaxing a tense exchange.
Applying the above principles and skills is not easy, but with increased awareness and practise, the effectiveness of our conflict resolution skills will increase substantially.
A large part of the content of this Article was derived from a Paper entitled “Conflict Resolution Skills” By Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Lawrence Robinson, and Melinda Smith, M.A.
You are encouraged to Subscribe free of charge to receive our Weekly Digest which informs you of the new material that has been added for the week.