When you think of the word “conflict” what comes to mind? Many would say disagreements, arguing, maybe even fighting and war. When confronted with conflicts that occur naturally between people in relationships, we have the opportunity to decide how we will respond. Some of the most common choices for a response include anger and retaliation or ignoring, burying and avoiding the issue. Let’s focus a bit on what each response may mean to us when in a disagreement with someone close to us… perhaps a friend, a spouse, parent or child.
Choosing the angry response leads us down a path where we feel we need to get even. “They can’t get away with that.” “She will have to pay for that action.” “I must teach him a lesson.” A response of retaliation is similar to punishment. When this is the chosen response, where does it lead? That depends on the strength of the relationship with the other person who offended you and also on the personality and character of the two of you. In the worst case, responding with anger and retaliation can lead to injury or damage to the relationship. If the other person feels he or she is not getting the respect they deserve, the whole scene could deteriorate quickly. Unfortunately, many of us have experienced this situation at some time and wish we could have taken back that reaction… chosen a response that was more cool, calm and collected.
Another common response to conflict or disagreement is to avoid the situation, give in, let them have their way, or refuse to talk about it. If you are like me, this may even have been taught to you by a well meaning parent as you were growing up and struggling with siblings. “Ignore them.” ” You don’t care about playing with them anyway.” “Just walk away.” “I don’t want to talk about that.” Where does this response leave you (and others) if you choose to ignore the situation over and over again? Probably feeling like a doormat, not taken seriously, never getting your share of what is good. These feelings of powerlessness over time render people unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves, like being passed over for the good things you deserve because you haven’t learned to speak up for what is important to you.
So what is a good way to respond to conflict then? Probably the best way is to look for a win-win outcome that meets everyone’s needs. As parents we may say, “I would never compromise on the rules in our home.” And as employees we may say, “It wouldn’t do any good to ask for what is coming to me, they would never listen.” The secret to finding win-win outcomes is knowing how to collaborate, knowing what is important to you and to the other person, taking the time build trust and to preserve the relationship even while you are hammering out some hard-to-come-by changes.
The notion of conflict as transformation is a different way to think about it. Many experts in conflict resolution tell us that conflict brings opportunities for creative change. Next time you have the opportunity of conflict, why not try to change your dance steps and see if you can transform the conflict into some new way, better approach, or creative idea. Moving through a conflict can be an opportunity for personal growth. Surviving difficult interpersonal issues builds strength and can increase your confidence in yourself.