Conflict Management: Avoiding the Negative Impacts of Conflict
Are you uncomfortable with conflict and tend to avoid it ?
Or perhaps you are uncomfortable with discussions and confrontation.
Do you often avoid speaking up your truth so as not to “create” any trouble?
You may feel defensive or angry when somebody disagrees with you and you are often accused of lacking consideration and tact when voicing disagreements.
Do you find listening to others’ points of view unnecessary because you feel you are right most of the time?
This may hurt, but if you are nodding your head right now, you might need to re-examine and develop your conflict management skills.
The fact that you are here reading this article means that some part of you feels you may need some work on this area. There is nothing wrong with the desire to improve yourself because nobody’s perfect. The biggest room you can have in this world is the room for improvement.
So, read on to learn how you can improve your conflict management skills!
Conflict — an inevitable circumstance
People are social beings. Whether you are an introvert, extrovert or even an ambivert, all of us at some point need interaction. Interactions help improve your mental, emotional and social well-being. Research has proven that healthy interactions can lighten your mood, make you happier, feel more secure, and lower your risk of dementia.
However, as you go deep into your interactions, there is a possibility of conflict. Conflict happens when you have opposing interests, viewpoints, and mental processes and refuse to compromise. Since you are an emotional being, and navigate the world with your unique perspective, conflict with others is inevitable.
Conflict can arise in any connection, including those with your partner, parent, sibling, child, friend, or coworker. It can produce a lot of stress, whether it's an explicit debate over dinner, a disagreement at work or home, or an underlying feeling of uneasiness that goes unspoken, regardless of the cause or who you are in conflict with.
A Story of Unmanaged Conflict
Take, for instance, the story of Sarah and Lilia.
Sarah and Lilia have been really good friends and workmates for about four years. Recently, they both were assigned to work on a particular project in their organisation.
The first two weeks turned out good for them. They had a healthy exchange of ideas over dinner and had plans set and made.
However, in the third week, Lilia started slacking off. She started coming late to meetings. She seems disengaged with the project and starts giving mediocre ideas. Sarah felt that she was doing the bulk of the work and became resentful of Lilia. She, however, did not talk to Lilia about this as Sarah does not want to have her friendship with Lilia strained. So, Sarah decided to keep her feelings to herself. However, in the following weeks, Lilia’s attitude did not change. Then one day, while Lilia was talking to Sarah about some insights she had on the project, she accidentally spilt coffee on Sarah’s desk.
Sarah shouted at Lilia and got really mad at her. She felt a rush of emotions cascading through her. It’s like all her pent-up anger suddenly came out. She called Lilia “lazy” and said some other harsh words to her. Lilia, in response, got upset and hurt, and she retaliated with some harsh words of her own.
As you can imagine, the meeting did not turn out well.
Lilia resigned, Sarah was reprimanded for her bad behaviour, and the project was given to somebody else.
Both Lilia and Sarah became depressed and hurt. Both women developed trust issues as well.
Their argument ruined their chances of nailing the project and it destroyed the friendship they both had worked so hard to build.
The Damaging Effects of Unresolved Conflict
I tell you the story of Sarah and Lilia to remind you that conflict, when not managed in a healthy way, can be destructive to both parties involved.
Sustained, unresolved conflict can cause strain at home or work and affect the quality and happiness of your relationships.
Conflict has also been found to harm your health. Over two years, researchers at Portland State University's Institute on Aging analysed more than 650 adults.
The researchers discovered that "stable negative social exchanges" (i.e., repeated or extended disagreement) were linked to lower self-rated health, more functional limits, and more significant health disorders.
These findings have ramifications for various health issues, but one major conclusion appears to be that stress can cause damage your immune system.
Although conflict can be stressful and uncomfortable, it is not always bad. When managed correctly, conflict allows you and the person you are in conflict with to see through each other's lens and walk in each other's shoes. It can also help you grow by generating innovative solutions to difficulties.
Developing Your Conflict Management Skills
Developing the Relationship Management competency of Conflict Management enables you to negotiate and resolve disagreements effectively. When you develop this competency, you will be able to:
• Deal diplomatically and tactfully with difficult individuals and groups of people and sensitive situations.
• Recognise potential conflict, bring issues to the surface, and assist in de-escalation.
• Encourage open dialogue and debate.
• Bring everyone together, learn about their different points of view, and develop a shared goal that everyone can support.
• Create win-win scenarios.
In the case of Sarah and Lilia, what Sarah could have done differently was to speak gently to Lilia about her behaviour the very first time she noticed the change. She could have asked Lilia why she is behaving that way, how her behaviour affects her and the project they are working on, and how she could help her. By doing so, Sarah could have understood where Lilia’s behaviour was coming from, helped Lilia get over whatever she was going through, and even spared herself from being hurt by Lilia’s actions. Thus, protecting the relationship.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you need to be emotionally prepared to deal with the conflict. This comes as a part of developing the competency in Conflict Management. Here is how you can do it:
• When confronted with a quarrel or a heated debate, become self-aware in the moment and concentrate on the issues rather than personal differences. “Separate the people from the problem.”
• Ask yourself, "What can I say or do to make this a more constructive discussion?”
• Remember, when you avoid conflict, it will persist (even fester) and will need to be addressed sooner or later, and the sooner the better because it will result in fewer negative feelings.
• Avoid digging in your heels or erecting barriers by being willing to change perspectives and evaluate a broader range of alternatives and solutions.
• When negotiating, consider your intentions; communicate your message to avoid causing hostility and respect the other person's dignity (no put-downs, no make-wrongs.)
• Think beyond the box, brainstorm, and develop new ideas for mutual benefit.
• To reach a decision, insist on utilising evidence or some objective data rather than the emotion and story.
• In a quarrel, be conscious of the other person's feelings — they may be angry or afraid. You will have a higher chance of persuading someone if you are aware of their emotional condition and can respond to their requirements.
• Bring in a neutral third party if the disagreement cannot be settled.
Imagine a world, country, community, workplace, and a home where conflict is properly dealt with. Imagine a world where each person strives to walk into another person’s shoes and see things from their perspective. Each person will value the relationship more than their ego, where conflict will bring about new ideas that will mutually benefit each party. Ahhh... What a wonderful world it would be!
And what’s amazing is, you can start creating this world by developing conflict management within yourself.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Barack Obama
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