A workable conflict is one where work can improve the situation. That’s in contrast to the other type of conflict—unworkable—where you’re truly between “a rock and a hard place” and no amount of work will result in improvement.
Workable conflicts are much more common than the unworkable types. That’s fortunate because with a workable conflict, a change of behaviour could resolve the conflict. Excellent! All we need to do is figure out what that behaviour is and do it.
This article is one in a series You can find the first article in the series here.
If workable conflicts are so solvable, why is there so much conflict? Well, just because a behaviour exists that could resolve the conflict doesn’t mean that we’re going to choose to use it, does it?
For example, Jacob had been doing great in the city. Hired by the first company he applied to, he loved his job, co-workers respected him; he’d even had several raises.
Now, his company has picked up and moved west. Granted, Jacob could have gone with them, but he didn’t want to leave his friends, and besides, he figured he’d get another job pretty easily. He’d even saved up some money so he could take a little time off before he started pounding the pavement.
By the time Jacob finally got into the swing of looking for work, he’d eaten through his savings. Now Jacob can’t afford his apartment, so he’s back with his parents.
It’s been a discouraging turn of events. Jacob’s view of himself has plummeted; he used to be an up-and-comer, now he’s back home with mom doing his laundry. Some days he doesn’t feel like getting off the couch. “There’s no point,” he tells his parents. “No one’s hiring unless it’s minimum wage. I have to be in the city to get decent work, and I can’t afford to move back. I just can’t catch a break.”
Does Jacob have a workable or an unworkable conflict? To distinguish between them, ask, “Are there behaviours that Jacob could engage in to improve his situation?” If the answer is yes, it’s a workable conflict.
Granted, those behaviours may not be what Jacob wants to do! He doesn’t want to work at minimum wage, he doesn’t want to live in the city unless it’s in a nice apartment, and he doesn’t want to move west.
However, working, even at low wage, would get him off the couch. Choosing to live in a low-rent boarding place in the city would bring him closer to a bigger pool of potential jobs. And the option of moving west may look more attractive now, when contrasted with living in mom’s basement!
While none of the options are perfect, any one could improve the situation. Unwillingness to choose an imperfect option is not the same as having no options.
Granted, figuring out options can be difficult, especially if you have been stewing in a conflict for a long time. That’s where friends, mentors, or even counsellors can be helpful.
It’s useful to be able to distinguish between true (unworkable) conflict and false (workable) conflict because quite different behaviours are effective for each. Do you distinguish between workable and unworkable conflict? Let me know