Whenever people need to interact with each other, there are opportunities for conflict. Conflict shows up among friends, within families, in community discussions and at workplaces.
That’s no surprise. After all, one reason for conflict is because people don’t agree on everything! We have different wants, different needs, and even different perceptions of the reality in which we live. Conflicts can naturally arise from those differences.
Conflict is often perceived as bad, but it does have its value. When we choose to engage in good faith with people who don’t agree with us, we may be inspired to examine issues more thoroughly than if we only talk to people who share our views.
Robust discussions can help us learn and improve our persuasion skills. Ultimately, we may uncover better solutions to a problem by working through disagreements than by avoiding the discomfort of conflict at all costs.
However, many people don’t like conflict. If there’s a disagreement happening, they want to be nowhere near it. That’s tough, because conflict is so prevalent in so many environments.
If you are a kind, empathetic person, you may be under the mistaken impression that everyone else is, too. Because you wouldn’t pick a fight just for fun, you can’t fathom that others would.
You may also be under an impression that when a person says something, there must be some truth to it. But not everyone shares that value.
Some people genuinely enjoy conflict. Perhaps it helps them satisfy their need for power (especially if they perceive that they are winning). Maybe they enjoy the exercise of their minds. Maybe they just find it fun.
There are all kinds of reasons why someone might attempt to pick a verbal fight with you, and those reasons may have little or nothing to do with you.
Anthony’s new job requires that he master complicated skills within a short time. Harry has been informed that he will be training Anthony. Harry doesn’t enjoy working with people, and he definitely doesn’t enjoy training.
This morning, Harry’s two year old had a tantrum when he left her at daycare. It was upsetting for Harry to pull his little girl away from his leg and leave her crying. To add to his distress, he’s now late for work.
Now Harry has to explain a complicated procedure to Anthony. Anthony just can’t seem to understand the instructions and asks Harry to go through it all again.
Clearly frustrated, Harry asks, “Are you really so dumb that you can’t follow what we’re doing here?”
Ouch! Anthony is trying his best and wants to succeed. As a conscientious person, he tends to take feedback to heart. How could Harry say that when I’m trying so hard?
In any conflict, it’s worthwhile to consider the choices available to us. We could act to escalate the conflict or to calm the emotions (ours included.)
However, it’s hard to make a rational assessment when we’re feeling hurt. What’s Anthony feeling now? Fear: “I might lose my job.” Uncertainty: “I didn’t think I was dumb, but maybe I am.” Wounded pride: “Oh no, everybody around me heard that.”
So here’s a tip for that first impulsive response: Don’t take everything to heart.
Even when someone says something that you believe was intended to offend you, you still have choices. You can be friendly. You can ask for advice.
How we handle our response in a conflict situation can determine whether we walk away with dignity and confidence or slink away hurt and demoralized.
This column was inspired by Taylor Jollymore, who provided a nice example to me for how to deal with conflict and resolution. Thanks Taylor!
Have you found yourself in unavoidable conflicts? How did you handle it?
Welcome to Reality Check:
articles and observations inspired by the work of Dr. William Glasser
- Choosing Behaviour
- Choosing Perspective
- Control and Choice
- Develop Understanding
- Doing, Thinking, Feeling, Physiology
- How it is sometimes
- Love & Belonging
- Perception & Reality
- Personal Freedom