We all face conflict at some time in our lives. But it doesn’t always have to be negative, it doesn’t have to end up as a war! In fact if you learn skills to deal with conflict there can be some really positive and satisfying outcomes.
What Is Conflict?
Conflict is when people disagree on an issue or can’t get along well. This is just a part of life. (What does not have to be a part of life is the conflict going on and on and on, or the conflict becoming an all out war!) It’s natural for people to disagree at times because we all have different interests, values, goals and needs. Other causes of conflict can be that sometimes we don’t understand other people and what they really mean. We can mistake the other person’s true meaning or another person can make a mistake about the meaning of something we say or do.
Conflict happens in personal relationships, with family, parents, caregivers, friends, partners, teachers and work mates.
Conflict also happens in wider society. We see conflict between groups with different interests and values. We see religion against religion, race against race, country against country, greenies against mining companies, pro-abortionists against right to life groups, city folk against country folk, political party against political party, sport team against sport team and more in society. You can probably think of many other examples.
Conflict can also happen within yourself when you learn something new that is different to what you always believed. The conflict inside yourself can make you want to hang on to your old beliefs or it can make you change your beliefs. So conflict can result in changes, often for the better.
Consequences Of Conflict
People deal with conflict differently. That means there are different consequences of conflict.
Conflict can get dangerous when people get aggressive and violent.
Conflict can bring about increased learning and greater understanding of each other’s viewpoints when dealt with wisely.
Some people avoid conflict, which means they don’t get any say in what’s happening.
Some of the negative parts of ignoring conflict or badly managing conflict can be:
having a lot of anger that you don’t express
trying to pretend that there isn’t a problem
the conflict gets worse
separation or family breakdown
stress and tension
a poor relationship
Some of the positive parts of dealing with conflict successfully can be:
a sense of achievement
you learn more about others and yourself
It all depends how it’s handled. You probably already have some very good skills in dealing with conflict. We can all learn more skills to deal with conflict that will bring more positive outcomes.
Ways To Deal With Conflict
It’s important to deal with conflict to avoid all the negatives we already talked about. The most effective way to deal with conflict is to negotiate with the other person involved. Work out first if the conflict is worth dealing with. If it’s an important issue in your life or for a person close to you, then it should be dealt with. If it’s something minor, for example, just a slight disagreement that will go away if you leave it, then perhaps that’s the way to go.
Although there are positive ways to deal with conflict rather than pretending it’s not happening or getting aggressive, it’s also important to know that there are times when conflict can be difficult to control and sometimes there is no easy answer. Not all conflict will be resolved. However, most of it can be handled well if you use a positive, respectful approach.
One of the most popular ideas around is the win- win approach to dealing with conflict. This approach is all about both people being satisfied with the outcome. It’s about finding out what you both want and where there are areas that you can both agree on, then working towards them. It’s about working together as partners trying to solve a problem, not as opponents trying to win against each other. It’s about working together on a basis of mutual respect to find a satisfying solution. Here are steps to work towards a win-win outcome.
Raise the topic (with respect)
Bring the conflict out into the open. Do this together in a calm way when both of you have the time and energy to sit down and talk peacefully. Say what the conflict is from your view and ask for the other’s view. Ask the other person if he would like to work out a solution with you. At this time it’s also OK to tell him how you feel – it’s only natural that conflict will bring out different emotions like sadness or anger. Say how you are feeling rather than taking it out on the other person. But be careful here. If you tell the other person your feelings in a way that is blaming towards them, you may get him angry and lose the opportunity to discuss the issues so you say how you feel without saying that he make you feel like that. The main thing to focus on at this time is what the problem is, what the issues are. Separate out the issues from the person or from the relationship. It is very important to treat the other person with respect while you’re discussing this.
At this point you don’t have to go on to work it all out – you have stated that there is a problem. You could then decide together whether to make a time to work on this together or to work on this now. You may like to print this topic out and use it together to try and resolve the conflict.
Understand each other
Both of you should have an uninterrupted time to explain how you see the conflict. Show respect for each other by not interrupting and really listening to the other person. Listen with your ears, your eyes and your heart and ask for more detail if you don’t understand. Do this in a positive way – no attacking or accusing etc. Really try and understand where the other person is coming from. Be open about what you might have done to make it worse. Be honest with yourself and the other person about this. By now you should both have a good picture of what is troubling the other person.
Define the problem
So what exactly is the problem? Can you both define the problem together? To make it easier to define, try and write it down in one sentence that explains the problem
What do you both want?
Next think about what it is you both want. Answer this together by working out the areas that you can both agree on. What is it you both want? How would you both like things to be? Thinking about these things helps you work out together what your goals are. Once you’ve worked out together how you’d like things to be, write down the goals that you both have (this means what you would like to happen).
Now that you really understand each other, and have worked out what the problem is and have worked out some goals, you can start to thinks about ways to get there. Think of all the possible ideas you can come up with together that will move you both towards your goals – it doesn’t matter how wild the ideas are at this stage. Write them as you go. When you finish brainstorming ideas, look at all the ideas you came up with. How can you make each idea work? What might be the outcomes of each idea? Decide which are the best ideas.
Putting it into practice
Make an agreement about which idea you’ll work on together. Work out all the details together clearly eg “on such and such day I will do x”. You can even write it out so you both know you are clear and are agreeing on exactly the same thing. A written agreement means it’s still clear later when one of you may have forgotten some details. If something comes up that means you can’t keep up your part of the agreement, go back and work it out again. If the solution looks like it’s not going to work after a fair time, then go back to the list you brainstormed. Try another idea.
This may seem like a lot of hard work, but it gets easier each time you practice. And remember, there are all the good outcomes to resolving conflict that we already talked about. And all the not so good outcomes when you don’t resolve conflict.
To work out conflicts, your skills are needed. In particular:
Assertiveness is a skill of its own. What does assertive mean? It’s a kind of attitude halfway between being aggressive and being passive. Being aggressive means you force your view on someone else. Being passive means you don’t do anything, just let things happen to you. There may be times when it’s OK to be passive or aggressive, but as we have already seen they’re not at all useful when there is a conflict. What you need then is to be assertive. When you’re being assertive you do state your view and do it in a calm and non-blaming manner. Have a look at our topic on ASSERTIVENESS for more information.
It can be hard to learn conflict resolution and assertiveness skills from reading alone. Many schools teach these skills to students. There are also courses in many community health centers where you can talk about these skills, ask questions and try out different problems with other people. Check out the resources at the end of this topic. Look for similar resources near where you live.
Note: This topic gives some practical suggestions and information. It is important to see a health professional for information specific to a health concern you may have about yourself.
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