Most of us view conflict as negative that must be put out, avoid or control. It is frequently viewed as a negative aspect, as stress inducing, reducing focus, causing discomfort and hostility. Such a perspective to conflict minimises the opportunity that is present in any difficult situation, relationship breakdown or any other unresolved conflict.
What makes conflicts difficult to resolve
Conflictual interactions leave us feeling frustrated and helpless. When we associate conflict with words such as stress, argument, anger, and frustration, we find it difficult to communicate. Such negative associations lead to unproductive outcomes like decreased communication, distrust, sabotage,verbal abuse, and other coercive tactics.
Conflicts often arise when people disagree over different views, ideas, processes or methods. However, a negative approach towards any kind of conflict makes everyone involved reactive and outward focused. It provides little to no opportunity for a successful resolution, growth, and change.
Certain disagreements can escalate into conflicts even in personal relationships. When you end up judging the other person, you feel justified for your actions and choices. As a result, issues and problems remain unresolved and the connection gets lost. In some relationships, we fall into unhealthy patterns of avoiding communication altogether. Such an avoidance contributes to further distrust when mutual respect is not prioritised.
Most of the unresolved issues often are when one side tends to dismiss others’ views as unreasonable or negatively motivated. When you do not carry a positive perspective on conflicting situations, you fail to understand why someone sees things the way they do and how that influences their actions. Also, certain negative behaviours lead to heightened emotions, communication breakdown, and more distrust when it comes to discussing concerns and/or problems.
“Conflict is good in negotiation process… it’s the clash of two ideas, which then, all being well, produces a third idea.” —Luke RobertsTweet
Conflict need not be always negative
Interpersonal conflict is inevitable, and is often needed to raise certain important issues or to address certain problems. It can motivate people to participate in solving problems to meet the needs. Conflict however need not necessarily be a bad thing. They need not always be destructive, or lead to negative outcomes. They can be useful, effective and constructive. The key is how you view it, approach, and respond to it once arises.
A healthy approach to conflicts in workplaces or among teams lead to new ideas, perspectives and stronger relationships. Conversely, carrying a negative approach with selfish motives create toxic workplaces, teams and relationships. In fact, great leaders see confrontations as one of the most important ways to maintain positivity and productivity among their teams and organisations.
Conflict can be perceived in positive terms like differences in ideas, values, views, or feelings between two or more people. Talking about divisive issues at work, heated discussions or disagreements often can be anxiety-inducing. However, if we don’t associate conflict with fear and frustration, it can be an opportunity to bring new ideas or perspectives.
Though conflicts involve opposing views, it can provide an opportunity for people to understand different perspectives that help them to connect and learn. Disagreements can provide feedback about things that can be changed and improved.
Thinking about the situation in positive terms, rather than as a situation to avoid or fear, leads to building trusting relationships. They provide us with useful insights to grow in our awareness to grow and change, be at an interpersonal or at an organisational level.
How to turn conflict into opportunity
Most of the times, our denial, avoidance, or negative outlook leaves a conflict unresolved. What makes the difference between whether it is being constructive or destructive is your approach and perspective you take. Here are some strategies to create an opportunity for growth, change and improve when conflict arises.
Be willing to change
In wanting to make a conflict go away, we often fail to look at ourselves honestly and make the changes needed. Most of us approach a conflict with a belief that only when other people change then the conflict would go away. Such a strategy of trying to get others change often fails. The only real way to manage is to increase our awareness of ourselves.
How rigid/flexible are we in our thinking to change, grow and improve. If you want to become balanced in your perspective, it is good to be willing to change. Ask yourself, What opportunities am I not seeing in this situation? What good could possibly come out of this if I shift my perspective? What would it take to make this work?
Disagreements can result in frustrations or resentment. To make them productive is to view it as a learning experience. If you feel like you don’t agree with what someone has to say, don’t be apprehensive in voicing your opinions. However, it is also important to be compassionate as such situations expose vulnerabilities of each side involved. If you trust the persons positive intentions, be more tolerant to work towards a common ground to work things out.
Ask yourself, What are my beliefs about the person I am in conflict with? What is holding me back from understanding their problem? What areas can be improved by resolving?
Avoid getting personal
To truly resolve issues involving diverse opinions, views and expectations, you must give people the chance to evolve and change. And this is not possible when you are being judgmental or enter conversations with assumptions. When you judge their worthiness, it only makes them more defensive of their beliefs, so they are not more open-minded to yours. To create more space, avoid criticising or blaming the person.
The key is to direct any criticism towards ideas and not people. Focus on the underlying issue to centre the discussion around the idea itself and not the person proposing it.
Ask open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions can expand a discussion in ways that encourage generating new opportunities. Before jumping to conclusions and considering everything as facts, it is important to verify if what you know is authentic and true. This can help create transparency instead of giving into your subjective opinions.
Asking, what would be a better outcome? Or what is going wrong? you can engage in collaborating to generate new and better options for mutually beneficial outcomes. Even if you still disagree, the other person will be more open to your perspective once they’ve had the chance to express their own views.
Work around the context
When it comes to interpersonal conflicts, context can also help explain why emotions might be running high. Having a clear sense of context can help you discuss possible ways to resolve that otherwise would be distorted.
When you collect information looking for multiple perspectives, it adds to expanding your own perspective on a situation. Think about the situation in positive terms by considering other’s perspectives. Asking yourself, why do others think a certain approach is best? Or why you oppose it? can lead to better understanding of the situation.
Avoid these negative behaviours
- Criticism often leads to escalating conflict rather than coming together. Criticism differs from offering a critiquing or voicing a complaint. The latter is about specific issues, but the former is finger pointing and blaming. Avoid using ‘you’ statements, for instance, ‘you always draw wrong conclusions.’
- Contempt: When you communicate with contempt, you are in a way saying, “I am better than you, and you are lesser than me.” Treating others with disrespect, mimicking, mocking them with sarcasm, name-calling are all forms of contempt. This results in spending your energy on trying to bring the other down rather than finding a solution.
- Defensiveness is when you start to undermine your mistakes and blame the other without taking responsibility for the part you played. It is a form of self-protection, where you are saying, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” This further results in ignoring other perspectives and in evading responsibility to resolve.
- Victimhood. Victim mindset makes you react negatively to constructive feedback. Carrying a negative attitude like, ‘world is mostly unfair’, or ‘life is against me’, or ‘poor me’ leads to emotional manipulation to control others. Similarly, avoid referring others too as victims.
Keeping your focus on strategic goals prevents a conflict from shifting to negative behaviours. Competencies like empathy, compassion, emotional intelligence and self-awareness can provide the necessary guidance to head towards productive conversations.
Questions for self-reflection
How do you perceive a conflict —doe the word conflict make you feel uncomfortable or do you see it an as an opportunity to change and improve?
Do you take personal responsibility for the part you play in a conflict?
How often do you try to achieve the best outcome while resolving an issue?
Did you ever resolve any conflicts without any relational damage?
How shifting your perspective on conflict can help you moving forward?
You might feel that it is difficult to see conflict as anything but a barrier to communication, but with a meaningful and focused approach, it can be transformed into an effective tool to build trust in relationships.
By avoiding negative behaviours and reacting with avoidance, anger, or fear, one can choose to respond with openness and clarity to create an opportunity for growth and improvement.
Working from a perspective of how we could solve the problem better or what would be a better way to resolve this helps you navigate conflict for tangible benefits.
5 Styles of Conflict Management and how to choose the one that is right for you
How to communicate without conflict
How to overcome conflict avoidance
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