There has never been a more important time for us, as a species, to learn how to have better conflict.
Disagreements today (especially online) take the tone of schoolyard taunts, name-calling and trading insults. Surely we can do better.
Because like it or not… life is full of conflict.
Unless you plan on being a tyrant or a pushover–you better get comfortable with it… you better get good at it.
And you better learn to pick your battles!
Not every conflict is worth having, but life will throw some at you that you can not avoid.
As your aging mother’s health fails, a decision needs to be made about her care. You and your siblings all have differing opinions on the matter, and so conflict arises.
You’ve been assigned to a group of colleagues to work on a new project, but a few members of the group aren’t pulling their weight, and so conflict rears its ugly head.
You can’t seem to do anything right in the eyes of your mother-in-law, who has just called you for the fourth time in an hour to make sure that you are not going to give a pacifier to her grandbaby, and yet again…you are faced with conflict.
Your spouse continues to put the toilet paper roll on the holder backwards…okay, maybe this isn’t conflict worthy. (I mean, we all know it should face forwards.)
But, what about when something serious does come up, and real conflict arises?
Your boss’s new workplace strategies are proving ineffective in your department. You desire to share your thoughts, and so conflict has emerged.
In families, in relationships, in the workplace…there will always be conflicts.
The truth is, problems and disagreements are a part of life. But, they don’t have to be feared, or agonized.
When dealt with in a healthy manner, conflicts that arise can be opportunities for growth personally, relationally, and professionally .
So, how can conflict be healthy?
How can we deal with conflict respectfully and in a way that produces the best outcome for all involved?
What Is Healthy Conflict And Why Is Conflict Healthy?
As we just mentioned, conflict is inevitable.
It occurs because, frankly, we all have a different set of priorities, principles, and perspectives.
Place those differences in a relationship or work environment, and you are bound to have conflict. Set them on the world stage of the internet, and the stakes get higher.
But, due to the negative connotations surrounding confrontation and even communication, many shy away from conflict.
However, avoiding it is not healthy and often results in a mess of uncontrolled emotions and otherwise preventable blow-ups.
Steering clear of conflict can complicate or even end relationships, and it can be a cancer to a productive and peaceful work environment.
Conflicts can and should be addressed in a healthy manner, where disagreeing parties come together for the betterment of the situation or relationship.
Healthy conflict, by encouraging respect for each party, takes disagreement and produces a helpful outcome.
Working through conflict in a healthy, productive manner can:
- strengthen bonds in relationships
- build trust and a sense of security
- facilitate better decision making
- broaden your perspective
- bring resolution to situations that may have otherwise been kept secret (thus creating discontentment, bitterness, anger, etc.)
Now, at this point you might be thinking that the concept of healthy conflict sounds a little too “picturesque,” or a little like “wishful thinking.”
If so, that’s no doubt due to the fact that we all know how ugly conflict can be!
The thing is, for conflict to be healthy, it takes work.
There are several things to keep in mind when seeking a healthy, positive outcome through conflict.
How To Keep It Cool When Conflict Arises
Let’s face it, by and large people are passionate. We bring a unique set of likes, dislikes, upbringings, experiences, and emotions to the table.
Those things are all a part of who we are as individuals, and this is why it’s hard to separate them when it comes to conflict.
It’s hard to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes because, honestly, we’re used to walking in our own shoes…we like our own shoes, we’re comfortable in our own shoes.
But, when conflicts arise…and they will…coming to the table with those shoes tied so incredibly tight will cut off the circulation of the possibility of resolution in even the best of circumstances.
So then, how can you keep your conflicts healthy?
How can you effectively communicate through conflict to facilitate trust, open communication, and to reach a resolution that is favorable and beneficial for all parties involved?
Consider the following ways to engage in healthy conflict:
1- Do Not Wait Until Things Are Volatile To Address An Issue
While it is not necessary (or beneficial) to bring up everything you disagree about in a relationship or work setting, holding in frustrations, or hurt, surrounding problems is not healthy.
Communicate regarding important disagreements early on to avoid having things get emotional and out of hand.
2- Take A Look Inside Yourself
Before ever confronting an issue, check yourself.
Don’t seek a conversation regarding a conflict with the intention of changing that person, but instead change yourself (your attitudes and emotions in particular) before addressing an issue.
When there is an issue between two individuals, first evaluate the situation to see where you, too, may be in error.
Take the Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock approach and remember that “it takes two to make a thing go right,” and then humbly approach the situation accordingly.
3- Always Approach Conflict With A Mutually Beneficial Solution In Mind
The goal of healthy conflict is to have something good come of the conversation…for all parties involved.
The intended good, or the goal that you’re working towards should be clearly communicated and positively conveyed.
When a solution is reached, be sure to follow through.
4- Try To Find The Root Of The Issue At Hand
Sometimes in conflict, simply understanding “where someone is coming from” or “why someone does what they do” goes a long way.
Could it be that the problem you are experiencing is because of a lack of communication, understanding, or even skill (often in the workplace)?
If you seek to find the root of the issue at hand, you are better equipped for coming up with an effective solution.
5- Focus On Similarities
It is no secret that differences abound between individuals. Those differences are generally seen in neon lights when it comes to conflict.
To promote productive conversation and respect for the other person, focus on the similarities you share.
Seek to find common ground and amplify the areas that you can both agree upon.
6- Show Respect By Listening
Listening actively during conflict is a matter of respect. Channel your inner Aretha Franklin and never omit “r-e-s-p-e-c-t” from any conflict.
When we listen to others, we learn. We learn more about the person, the problem, and can better arrive at a solution.
After stating the facts of the problem or issue that has brought about the conflict you are addressing, ask for the other person’s thoughts or opinions concerning the issue.
Don’t approach listening as a waiting period for when you can respond, tuning out the other party when they are speaking.
Actively listen, then make sure you understand the feelings of the other party or person, acknowledging their position.
7- Humbly Realize Your Viewpoint Is Not The Only One That Matters
When we feel strongly about something, our passion surrounding the issue can make us blind to the views of others. This can hinder progress in a relationship.
Try to understand the issue from the other person’s perspective.
When we can share differing opinions or viewpoints without the risk of being stifled, this allows us to see that our point of view is valued.
This can add depth to work groups and promote commitment in relationships.
Being able to share opposing viewpoints allows a person to feel invested in the group or relationship.
8- Control Your Emotions
Conflict is not healthy when emotions dictate the conversation.
Healthy and effective communication is almost impossible if you are emotional, closed-minded, or not thinking clearly.
When we’re emotional, we tend to take things personally.
Be mindful of how you are speaking. We can be prone to speak in extremes and get defensive when emotions are running high.
You can foster respect by encouraging the other party to communicate the emotions they are feeling.
But, if emotions steer the conversation off course, restate the intent or goal of why you came together in the first place.
9- Remain Focused On The Facts
Don’t get sucked into the downfall of focusing on individual words or phrases in the conversation, but instead, always keep the context in mind and focus on the point as a whole.
Remember to focus on the facts in front of you and do not let your opinion of a situation paint a different story than what the facts represent.
Take an extreme example: Your spouse lies about their whereabouts and becomes increasingly secretive with their phone.
Those are the facts. Those facts created suspicion that led to a confrontation.
Your opinion is that he/she is having an affair, but you must remember that this is only a hypothesis. This isn’t fact.
You may state your opinion, but be careful not to do so with conviction.
When you allow your spouse the opportunity to reply, you may find that their secretive actions can be explained by the fact he or she was actually planning a surprise for you.
But, until you receive more information, veering away from the facts can lead to misunderstanding, put someone on the defensive, and cause emotions to override the situation.
10- A List of Don’ts
- Don’t interrupt or speak over the other individual.
- Don’t “correct” someone else’s opinion or viewpoint.
- Don’t hog the conversation, allow ample time for the other party to share their thoughts and feelings.
- Don’t be a butt…I mean, don’t interrupt with “but…” in response to the other party’s thoughts or feelings.
- Don’t speak in an antagonistic or combative manner.
- Don’t insist on being right. It’s okay to simply understand one another, without agreeing.
- Don’t be brutally honest, but instead practice necessary honesty.
- Don’t keep pushing. If things get out of control, take a break, step away for a period of time, and revisit the issue when both parties are calm and refocused on seeking resolution.
In the words of Ronald Reagan, “peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
When we can value other viewpoints, thoughts, practices, and opinions we grow individually, professionally, and in our relationships.
When seeking the betterment of these relationships, conflict can be healthy.
And who knows, being assertive and presenting your point might be the very thing that is needed to solve a problem, change a mind, or right a wrong.
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