We are all very different, so it’s only natural that we think and see things differently. This often leads to conflict, which is a fact of life since we work, live, play and interact with others in our daily lives. Conflicts typically arise when an individual (or group) needs, wants, or believes something contrary to someone else, and as we all know, conflicts can range from light banter to an intense or even violent confrontation. Some people seem to be really good at managing conflict, while others may be quite timid or respond with angry outbursts or passive-aggressive behaviours. What’s most important about conflict however, is that we need to remember that it is a part of life, and when we work through conflicts thoughtfully, we can maximize harmony and minimize lasting damage to relationships and individuals.
Causes of conflict
Before we can learn more about managing conflict, it’s a good idea to learn some of the key causes of conflict, which typically fall into one of these categories:
- Perceptions & communication
Think back to a recent conflict you had with someone – the odds are pretty good that it was a simple misunderstanding that went awry – from either or both parties. As we know, we all communicate differently, and there are so many communication barriers that we encounter that it’s not uncommon to interpret something the wrong way. Before we know it, we are faced with a dispute or falling-out that could have likely been avoided.
- Personality differences
It’s sometimes a challenge when we confront others who have personalities or behaviours that are very different from ours. As easy-going or open-minded as we like to think we are, sometimes people can just rub us the wrong way, or vise-versa, which can lead to conflicts.
Competition is another significant source of conflict. Beyond games, sports or in the business world where we expect to see competition, we compete for things in our day-to-day lives that can get us – or others – riled up. For example, we may compete for a promotion at work, a chance to date that special someone, the title for best looking house on the street, or even for a parking spot at the mall at Christmas time.
- Violating rules or policies
There are lots of rules to follow in life, both formal and informal, and when they are knowingly broken it can most definitely cause conflict. Think back to a time when someone cut in front of a long line you were waiting in; it certainly stirs up some negative feelings doesn’t it? When rules and policies aren’t followed at home, work, or anywhere else, it can cause any range of problems, errors and general peril, as well as spark a lot of conflict!
Picking the best strategy
When conflicts arise, as we know they will, it is important to know how to work through them. The conflict resolution strategy we choose depends on many factors, including our concern for ourselves, our concern for others, the level of impact, our perceived power over the situation and the level of interest for the different parties or individuals involved. With this month’s theme of conflict resolution, I will explore 4 different options for successfully resolving conflict – and in which situations they are best suited.
Strategy # 1 – Withdraw / Avoid
Withdrawing or avoiding a conflict is one resolution strategy that allows emotions to subside. It’s a solid choice for the conflicts that we can’t win and for conflicts where the impact either way is insignificant. Perpetuating these types of conflicts is draining and unproductive, so it is best to retreat. However, if there’s a pattern of being manipulated or being taken advantage of, then that is something else altogether that needs to be assessed.
A good example of a withdraw/avoid resolution strategy is when we were at the top of the South Face on Mount Everest, on a small plateau called The Balcony; we got into a conflict with another climber who was trying to claim one of our partially-full oxygen cylinders. In this case, we decided it wasn’t worth the time or energy to continue the conflict, so we withdrew and let him have our cylinder. We had more oxygen available to us, otherwise it would have become a much more serious conflict wherein a different tactic would be warranted. In a withdrawal scenario like this, it is often a win-lose situation where one party wins and the other loses. However, the losing party needs to be wise enough to realize that they may be winning out in the end by avoiding the emotional turmoil, loss of energy, loss of time and any future repercussions that continuing a conflict may bring about. It can also save our sanity, our reputations, and hopefully a valued relationship. In these situations, taking the (perceived) loss is often about taking the high road and being the bigger person. The world could use a bit more of that.
“Sometimes letting go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.” — Eckhart Tolle