Shaping Conflict

How we approach conflict situations radically informs their possible outcomes. Disagreements and conflicts of interest arise all the time, in work, in any kind of human relationship, in our connections with non-human things. The mindset we carry when we find ourselves in conflict with another will shape what happens.

If the priority is to win and come out on top, then we have just defined our situation as a win/lose one. From there, we can go on to win or lose, with our winning dependant on someone else not getting what they want. If we hit conflict with the determination to prove that we are right (and that the other is therefore wrong) or to point score, then again we are shaping the possible outcomes. One of the consequences of going head to head like this is that someone is bound to lose, quite possible both will lose and the optimal solution will remain undiscovered. Furthermore, in the process of forcing a situation through to a win/lose conclusion, we may well alienate and injure others, suffer distress ourselves, break relationship and compromise future possibilities. The scope for losing grows, but still it’s all too easy to focus on the immediate ‘win’ and not think about the wider consequences.

It is not necessary to respond to most situations of disagreement as being competitions. When we encounter differences of opinion, what we have is an opportunity to learn. Rather than rejecting the other person’s perspective outright, it is much more productive to hear them out. Find out what they think and feel, seek to understand their perspective and issues. Even if it doesn’t allow you to work things through peaceably, you will know more for next time. It may be that the conflict is the result of simple misunderstanding. A competitive approach will never enable you to discover and resolve such an issue. If you listen to a person and give them chance to express their issues without having those rejected, ignored or shouted down, then the scope for being heard in turn is much improved. Sometimes in the sharing of perspectives, it’s entirely possible to see a way forwards that will work for everyone. Sometimes it becomes evident that we are talking to different aspects of the same thing. Common ground can be established. Often, we learn.

A peaceful resolution to conflict may well involve compromise. While there are things no person should ever compromise (their integrity, the wellbeing of others, and so forth) it is important to be willing to flex. What we stand to lose in fighting is usually so much greater than the small sacrifices we can make to work alongside others. Through compromise, and co-operation we have the opportunity to enrich relationship and build ties that will serve us in the future, while competition will make enemies and create us potential problems in times to come.

Peace is not an abstract concept nor an impossible wish, but if we want it in our own lives, we have to be willing to embrace it and bring it about at every available opportunity. When we do, we win and gain in so many ways.