Conflicts run all the way from minor, unimportant differences to disputes which can threaten the future of a relationship. Conflicts with a loved one or a long-term friend are, of course, different from negotiating with someone who does not care about your needs, like a stranger or a salesperson.
However, there is an underlying principle that underscores all successful conflict resolution. That is, both parties must view their conflict as a problem to be solved mutually so that both parties have the feeling of winning – or at least finding a solution which is acceptable to both. Each person must participate actively in the resolution and make an effort and commitment to find answers which are as fair as possible to both. This is an easy principle to understand, but it is often difficult to put into practice.
We may get so caught up with our own immediate interests that we damage our relationships. If we disregard or minimize the position of the other person, if fear and power are used to win, or if we always have to get our own way, the other person will feel hurt and the relationship may be wounded. Similarly, if we always surrender just to avoid conflict, we give the message to the other person that it is acceptable to act in a self- serving way at our expense and to be insensitive to our needs. Our feeling of self-worth suffers, resentment festers, and we feel poisoned in the relationship. Instead, it is healthier if both parties can remain open, honest, assertive, and respectful of the other position. Mutual trust and respect, as well as a positive, constructive attitude, are fundamental necessities in relationships that matter.
Most people have no interest in creating conflict with others. Most of us know enough about human behavior to distinguish between healthy communication and the words or actions that contribute to rocky relationships. It is in our interest to maintain relations which are smooth, flexible, and mutually enhancing. The problem occurs when we fail to use cooperative approaches consistently in our dealing with others. We seldom create conflict intentionally. We do it because we may not be aware of how our own behavior contributes to interpersonal problems. Sometimes we forget, or we are frustrated and annoyed, and sometimes we just have a bad day. At times we feel so exasperated that we focus on our own needs at the expense of others’. And then we find ourselves in conflict.
To prevent conflict from happening in the first place, it is important to identify the ways in which we contribute to the disagreement. One way of doing this is to identify a specific, recent conflicted situation, recall what you said, and then think specifically about how you could have used more effective language. Think about ways in which your communication could have set a more trustful tone or reduced defensiveness. Then, once you have identified your part in the conflict, such as blaming, practice working on that particular behavior for a day or a week. At the end of the time period, evaluate your progress. Did you succeed? In what situations did you not succeed? (While it may be the other person who created the conflict, you are the other half of the interaction and it is your own response that you have control over and can change.)
Next Time: Using Effective Communication Techniques to Reduce Conflict