Conflict evokes strong physical and emotional responses in people, which is often why it is avoided. People avoid conflict for a number of reasons. It may be that we lack confidence, or perhaps we have already made up our mind about how the situation is and how the other person feels. Perhaps we feel as though the costs outweigh the benefits, or perhaps we struggle to hold in our emotions and are concerned about how we will be perceived. Maybe we have already raised issues with an individual in the past without success so we have a hard time addressing the issues again.
Many of us know that feeling of ruminating and hanging onto an issue for a long period of time, stewing until we boil over, becoming so upset and angry at the other person that we end up doing the very thing that we were avoiding. We also know that general avoidance of conflict, particularly in romantic relationships can result in unresolved pent up resentment, which can be toxic. Avoidance in conflict is mostly unhelpful however it has its benefits and these are protective in nature, whether it is to reduce stress or keep ourselves safe.
An area where conflict can be quite difficult to resolve is in the workplace. Sometimes there can be a culture in the workplace of rewarding more ruthless or aggressive forms of conflict resolution that involve less compassion and negotiation. It can be a very intimidating process raising issues in the workplace and quite often those who raise such issues even respectfully, are viewed as the problem and may be avoided. It takes great courage to raise issues assertively in the face of some of the barriers there are to addressing conflict.
Conflict can be healthy and lead to growth both individually and externally. Sometimes our relationships both with others and ourselves deepen after conflict but it does take a few important ingredients for this to happen.
- Practice reflection after conflict. What you did well, what you could improve on. Recognise what aspects of the issue are yours, what are theirs. The more you practice self-reflection the more self-aware and prepped for future conflict you can be.
- Reflect on where the real issue lies and why you feel the way you feel. This may be helpful both before and after the conflict. Sometimes we can intentionally or unintentionally cover up primary emotions (more vulnerable emotions such as sadness, hurt, fear, shame) that are uncomfortable with more reactive secondary emotions (reactive- anger, frustration, jealousy).
- You are allowed to feel what you feel, your feelings are important, as are everyone’s. Being angry or upset in conflict can be helpful. What matters is HOW you communicate your feelings, doing it respectfully, not attacking and being honest.
- If you go into conflict blaming the other person, they will most likely get defensive and effective conflict management is very unlikely. Blaming can lead to power imbalances in the relationship and disempower people, which can lead to a build up of resentment.
- Try to focus on blame behaviour not the individual. When people have clear examples of behaviours that they engage in and how this affected you it is easier for them to understand.
- Try to be open and understand where the other person is coming from and reflect your understanding to them.
- Just because a person responded to conflict in one instance one way, this may not be how they respond in other circumstances.
- Owning your own emotions. No one has made you feel this way, this is how your brain has interpreted the event. Of course, it is important to acknowledge that events/people can certainly have a large influence over your feelings but still, your brain is the filter for how you interpret this information.
- Compromise where possible.
- Write a letter to the person without sending it, this may help to organise your thoughts before you raise an issue with them.
- Sometimes the conflict won’t get resolved. But, how you manage the conflict and your courage to be assertive is a huge growth opportunity that you can reflect on and be proud of.
If ongoing conflict or conflict avoidance within relationships in your life is an issue you may benefit from seeing a Psychologist.