‘The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself.’
Garth Brooks


It is important to remember that not all conflict is negative. Sometimes a confrontational situation, if it is managed positively, can bring around some very strong results. In fact if you never have any confrontation then progress may never be made!
Conflict is essentially when two or more values, perspectives or opinions are contradictory in nature and haven’t been aligned or agreed upon. This could be conflict within yourself when you are not living according to your own values or when your values and perspectives are challenged or threatened by someone else.

It is important to realise, regardless of your initial reaction, that you must be aware of your natural instincts. Whether you feel like you want to fight or flee when a conflict arises, you can deliberately choose a conflict mode. By consciously choosing conflict you are more likely to productively contribute to solving the problem you are faced with.

Personality clashes are inevitable, because we are all different and it can be frustrating when someone doesn’t get our point of view. We can also rub each other up the wrong way and often what we don’t like in others is what we actually don’t like in ourselves.

A big factor in persuading someone of the need to commit to change and manage their anger is to look, with the other person, objectively and sensitively at the consequences of their anger. Often angry people are in denial and put it down to acceptable mood swings and the frustration at the situation as opposed to the way that they are choosing to handle the situation.

Helping angry people to understand that their behaviour is destructive and negative is an important first step. Most importantly, recognising how you handle your own emotions is key. If you know that you can be hypersensitive in certain situations and take things personally, you need to remind yourself of this in moments of high emotion. It may be that you are so involved with the turmoil that is going on within yourself that you can become defensive and take it out on other people.

Being as objective as possible and focusing on the benefits of resolving conflict is far more positive and conducive to happy living. It is important on occasions to concede that you may not always be right. After all, life is rather too short for unnecessary negative confrontation and is so much better when you resolve your differences and move on from them in a positive and constructive way.

‘Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.’ Max Lucade

Conflict Resolution – Steps to Success

  • Understand the benefits of conflict
  • Use the cool down model to defuse tension
  • Consider the other person’s point of view
  • Manage your emotional reaction
  • Seek mutually beneficial outcomes
  • Once the situation is resolved – move on!

Benefits of conflict

Conflict can be very positive because it helps to raise and address problems. It can also energise your focus towards the most appropriate issues with a view to resolution and results. Remember, conflict is not the problem; it is when you poorly manage conflict that it becomes a problem. Out of control conflict can hamper productivity, demotivate and cause continued conflicts that lead to negative, disruptive and inappropriate behaviour. Conflict can be a hard thing to face; however, there is value in addressing it. A lot of positive things can come from conflict!

Conflict will help you to find new ways of seeing things. If you pay close attention, you may well start to see someone else’s point of view and come up with an entirely new way to view things based on points that have been raised by the conflict. Listening carefully to others is an important part of benefitting from conflict.

Conflict is a great way to learn more about other people’s perspectives. Whether it is an argument with a significant other or with a boardroom full of colleagues, facing conflict is a great way to learn more about others. If you pay attention, you will learn not only about their particular points of view, but also about the way they choose to argue. If you concentrate on what people are saying, you can pick up a lot of information about them when you actively engage in conflict.

Another surprising benefit of participating in conflict is that you can learn a great deal about yourself. You will learn not only what you believe about that particular topic, but also more about how you choose to raise points, what pushes your buttons, and what makes you more open to others. If you listen to what you’re saying and pay close attention to your body language, you can learn a great deal about yourself and your conflict style.

Whether or not you agree with those you are in conflict with, engaging in conflict will allow you the opportunity to see different perspectives – if you remain open to listening to others. Although you don’t have to agree with everything others say, if you want to benefit from conflict you must keep an open mind and be willing to hear them. You might not agree with another person’s perspective, but at least you can see it!

Coping with conflict

Some people are better at dealing with conflict than others. How do you react to conflict? Do you fear it and avoid it at all costs? If your perception of conflict comes from frightening or painful memories from previous unhealthy relationships or your early childhood, you may expect all present-day disagreements to end badly.

On that basis it is really important that you challenge your fears. If your early life experiences have left you feeling out of control and powerless, conflict may even be traumatising for you.

If you view conflict as dangerous, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you go into a conflict situation already feeling extremely threatened, it is very difficult to deal with the problem at hand in a healthy way. Instead, you are more likely to shut down or blow up in anger. If this is the case for you then I would suggest that you seek out support because to deal with any conflict situation successfully you will need to feel confident.

Conflict triggers strong emotions and can lead to hurt feelings, disappointment, and discomfort. When it is handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable rifts, resentment and relationship break-ups. When conflict is resolved in a healthy way, it increases our understanding of one another, builds trust, and will strengthen your relationship bonds.

If you are out of touch with your feelings or so stressed that you can only pay attention to a limited number of emotions, you won’t be able to understand your own needs.

In order to handle conflict situations effectively, you will need to learn and practice three core skills:

  1. The ability to quickly reduce any stress that is triggered in the moment.
  2. The ability to remain comfortable enough with your emotions to react in a constructive way.
  3. The ability to deal with things calmly and not to become over-agitated.

Manage Your Response to Conflict

Here are few tips for dealing with your own reaction to conflict:

  • Manage stress quickly while remaining alert and calm
  • Manage your emotions and behaviour
  • Communicate your needs without threatening, frightening, or punishing others
  • Pay attention to the feelings being expressed as well as the spoken words of others
  • Be aware and respectful of your differences
  • Be aware of the language you use and avoid inflammatory words when conveying your message.

One very important point to bear in mind is that if you automatically take everything personally it will not help you to be objective. Do your best to stand back from each situation and get a balanced perspective. Remember that there are always three sides to every argument. Your perspective, the other person’s perspective, and a neutral third party perspective.

The Cool Down Model

In conflict you need to control your emotions and try to not get angry, aggressive or oversensitive. Anger is often stress in denial and some angry people take pride in their anger and don’t want to change; others fail to recognise the effect it has on both themselves and on others. Without a commitment to change, there’s not a lot that can be done; anger management is only possible when an angry person accepts and commits to change.

In any conflict situation it is better to deal with things calmly and not to become over-agitated. If ever you find yourself in a conflict situation with someone and you are looking to defuse the potential volcano that can erupt, the following five-step process is a great way to cool down the situation.

The Cool Down Model:

When someone is in conflict mode they can end up transmitting anger due to heightened stress levels. By listening and allowing them to get whatever it is off their chest, you will encourage them to eventually run out of steam.

This doesn’t mean wallowing in a mutual pity party. Rather, this refers to demonstrating that you are in a supportive mode. Simply saying ‘I am sorry that you feel this way’ can immediately defuse a volatile situation.

This is about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and attempting to see the situation from their perspective. There are always three sides to every situation. Your perspective, their perspective and a neutral third party perspective that you may well arrive at together.

Attempt to find out what the root of the problem is and what the desired outcome is by asking questions.

It is always good to discuss a balanced course of action that is mutually beneficial and that will result in the best possible outcome. It may take some time to work out what that is, and it is important that all sides are in agreement and support the action plan.

The cool down model is a good way to defuse a conflict situation. Being aware of what can cause conflict is also important. It could well be poor communication, not being informed about changes or simply not understanding another person’s motivation. It is important to understand the reasons for decisions too. Disagreement about ‘who does what’ and stress from trying to deal with inadequate information or resources can be a real irritation.