Conflict. It is such an ugly word. A word feared and avoided by many. I know that in my life, this is something I have tried to avoid, for the most part. What if I told you that conflict does not have to always be a bad thing? What if I told you that there is good that can come from conflict? That is if it is handled correctly. How do you handle it correctly? I’m so glad you asked.
The first thing that you need to understand is that the effect of conflict on you and your relationship is impacted by 1) how much that person means to you, 2) the source of the conflict, and 3) how both of you respond. When we face conflict with a coworker, it can be an annoying and persistent burden until we deal with it, but when a spouse or loved one hurts us, it can be heartbreaking.
Psychologists have concluded that everyone responds to conflict in one of three ways: move away (flight), move against (fight), or move toward (peace). Here’s how those three reactions break down:
1. Move Away
The flight response is an attempt to avoid conflict by withdrawing from the situation. Some characteristics of this response include blame-shifting, denial, avoidance, ignoring, and postponing conflict. This response may seem like the easiest choice at the immediate time, but in the long run this approach can be more destructive than you realize.
2. Move Against
The fight response is a defensive, self-protective response where the motivation is to protect yourself by getting what you want. Characteristics include insults, gossip, aggression, and competition. This response may make you feel better at the time, but the long-term effects can be very damaging. Tearing another person down is never a good thing to do or practice.
3. Move Toward
The peaceful response is also the most healthy response, where the goal is restoration and harmony. The good of the relationship is more important than self-protection. Characteristics include communication, accountability, mediation, accommodation, collaboration, persistence, and compromise. The problem is that at the time of the conflict, this is the hardest response to have. In the long-term, it is by far the least destructive and damaging. This is the only response that can actually have growth come from it.
If you can practice the move toward type of response when conflict arises, you gain an understanding of the position of the person you are in conflict with. You get to see it from their perspective. In the process of working through the conflict in this manner, you will learn more about the person and your relationship with the person will often grow stronger in the end because of it.
Now think about how you’ve handled conflict lately. Which of these three responses is your natural reaction to conflict? Have there ever been any circumstances that have led you to react differently? Why?
Unfortunately, I found myself in a conflict with someone very close to me just last night. I initially dealt with the conflict by trying to move away and avoid the person. When that person tried to come to me in an attempt to move toward me and resolve the conflict with me through communication, I went right into moving against them with a self-protective response. At that time I would have had to admit my own share of the fault in the conflict and I was not prepared to do that yet. So I was a classic example of doing everything you could possibly do wrong. Luckily, that person is very forgiving and understanding so we were able to resolve our conflict in a mutually peaceful manner. This did involve me having to admit my fault and say I was sorry, but I think that as we look back on this, we will be able to look at it as a growing experience.
I don’t recommend doing it the way I did it, but the problem is that we are human. Often times we look for the easiest path at the time and number 3 is the most difficult. That creates a problem. So what do we do? We need to train ourselves to handle conflict the correct way from the start. While this may not be the natural approach, and will be more difficult at the time, in the long-run, it will be the response that will cause the least amount of hurt and pain. It will also be the easiest road over the course of the conflict.
Since this does not come naturally to us, we will struggle with it at times. That does not mean that just because it is a struggle at times, that we can’t do the right thing. It does mean that it will take a deliberate conscious effort on our parts. It will also take some practice. Let’s all make an effort to handle conflict correctly the next time we are faced with it. Who knows, maybe I will handle it correctly this time.