Ms. Carroll is a retired paralegal who now works as a certified aromatherapist. She enjoys freelance writing in her spare time.
Life is rarely free of conflict. An entire week without some type of struggle or conflict would be a week just shy of a miracle. Human beings who aren’t adept at handling conflict often prefer to run and hide, procrastinate, or just ignore the conflict or dispute altogether, rather than try and solve it. The reason we engage in conflict often centers around the fact we tend to take things personally, whether in a professional or personal setting, so getting defensive or competitive about a conflict is commonplace. Unfortunately, this only creates added tension. Add poor communication skills, hidden agendas, or other hindrances to the situation; then, conflicts can go from something very manageable to something uncontrollable very quickly.
What If You Don't Like Handling Conflict?
If you are not adept at handling conflict, it is not necessarily your fault. If you had siblings growing up, you were more than likely forced to share, but conflict resolution techniques probably didn’t rank at the top in family planning. Having siblings certainly increased the chances that you learned some resolution strategies, but the odds are still high that what you learned during childhood was more trial-and-error in nature than tried and true methods designed to navigate extreme points of view with minimal tension. If we are lucky, college will teach us some good debate skills, but little about how to navigate serious conflict.
What Is Healthy Conflict?
Most of us have heard the term “healthy conflict.” Indeed, conflict can be a good thing depending on how we respond to it. Just like life’s sufferings bring newfound strength, wisdom, cleansing, and growth — so can conflict. However, conflict creates something that suffering does not always create — the fear of defeat. Most of us don’t enjoy compromise and would prefer to win our disagreements, particularly after expending energy in favor of our position. The higher our energy and investment, the less likely we are to even consider looking at another person’s perspective. It’s completely natural to dislike having our ideas shot down, but it is not prudent to refuse to accept there may be another way, a better way. We don’t like to get ousted when there is a vote, yet we cannot always win. More often than not, we are forced to compromise.
3 Tips for Handling Conflict
- Leave Obstinance at the Door
- No Name Calling, Bullying, or Intimidation
- Schedule a Future Date to Discuss the Conflict
1. Leave Obstinance at the Doorstep
Obstinance, by definition, means stubbornly adhering to an opinion, purpose, or course of action, despite valid reasons, arguments, or persuasions otherwise. Leaving obstinance behind does not mean you give up your position in a conflict; it just means that you are dedicated to sharing your position without the resounding bray of a kicking mule. If you've ever stormed out of a meeting, hung up on a caller, or refused to hear someone else's point of view, then you may have been bitten by the obstinance bug. Take a deep breath! Mindful breathing can help open your body’s energy centers and thereby help set a positive frame of mind.
Try the "Zip-Up" Technique
No matter how positive we might be, that doesn't ensure we are up against equal positivity. Negative energies are REAL and, once brought into the room, can be formidable and affect everyone. Donna Eden advocates a technique in her book "Energy Medicine" called the “Zip-Up” for warding off negative contagions. When feeling vulnerable, this technique will boost confidence levels and help prevent your friendly foe from channeling his or her negative energies into you.
Take a look at the video below. The Zip-Up technique cannot always be done discreetly, so rehearse the exercise in advance. If the Zip-Up seems awkward to you, remember this is about being open-minded. If you don’t attempt to give this a try, then you just failed your first obstinance test!
Additionally, despite what you’ve heard about crossed arms indicating that a person is closed-off, Eden explains that crossing your arms actually helps connect your own energies allowing you to become more authentic in any given situation. It doesn't hurt to smile but resist the temptation to smirk at all costs!
2. No Name Calling, Bullying, or Intimidation
Since conflicts are typically personal, emotions can run high. An individual with a low capacity to handle high emotions will go off the rails quickly. Persons who have experienced chronic emotional stressors will have a notably more adverse reaction to conflict. Name calling essentially ensures a non-negotiable environment and potentially, a complete meltdown.
We all have sensitivities whether mental, emotional, physical, chemical, social, or just energy-related. Handling a conflict necessitates the expenditure of tremendous energy, sometimes leaving little reserve in the adrenals to process name-calling, bullying, and contempt in particular. Conflict alone can create changes in the brain’s amygdala, the part of the body that processes threatening stimuli. The amygdala which serves as the central processing unit for emotions and emotional behavior, can even have trouble discerning old threats from the current threat. Once over-activated, the brain can react by creating a cumulative response to a single current threat.
Human beings tend to overlook the fact that personal injury is more than some acute, physically life-threatening event. Chronic personal injury can stem from repetitive exposure to conflict, meaning that we don’t always get better at conflict with age. Past exposure to trauma including bullying or name-calling is almost certain to trigger a sympathetic response in our nervous system (fight or flight). Once this occurs, our heart rate will increase blood flow to our limbs and away from our core where we need it most. Our breathing will shift from normal to rapid, shallow breaths. For those who’ve experienced repetitive stressors, the parasympathetic nervous system may also be triggered (faint or freeze). When this happens, the heart rate will decrease. The heart rate will become “incoherent” to use a term and ideology phrased by HeartMath Institute. The heart rhythm will move into and out of a sympathetic AND parasympathetic response as the body tries to maintain equilibrium. At this point, the thinking brain defers to the emotional brain leading to major anxiety, even rage.
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To avoid a meltdown, set the terms for the conflict resolution at the outset. There is no need to follow Robert Rules of Order, but it is definitely helpful to provide written rules to the parties involved:
Eight Conflict Engagement Rules
- Indifference and Contempt are Condemned
- Facts Only, and if unknown, Facts Must be Established or Verified
- No Physical Intimidation, Violence, Weapons, or Threats Allowed (or meeting will be immediately postponed)
- No Psychological Intimidation (bullying, gaslighting, stonewalling, shaming, etc.)
- Avoid Making Assumptions and When Needed, Ask for Clarity
- Exercise Understanding for the Thoughts, Opinions, and Beliefs of Others
- Control Your Anger (the only appropriate use of anger is setting boundaries)
- Control Your Ego/Complexes (inferiority, insecurity, superiority — we all have them to some degree
OPT-OUT CLAUSE: Every party reserves the right to disengage and resume the conflict engagement due to heightened anxiety or fear of harm.
3. Schedule a Future Date to Discuss the Conflict
Both sides must be willing to engage in conflict resolution. If one side is unwilling, the time is not ripe for engagement. The friction created by differing opinions whether related to power, personal wants and needs, policy directives or strategy, can begin as sparks and quickly reach fully-involved flames. In order to be properly primed for conflict resolution, a period of stepping back should be allowed for self-examination first. This period is a good time to recognize emotional triggers, commit to respecting one another, and consider how you might sacrifice individual power for collective power. In her book, "The I and the Not I," Esther Harding says, “The extent to which we are motivated and controlled by unconscious attitudes is unbelievable.” She points out that we don’t engage in conflict to uphold certainty, but instead, to force another individual to accept our beliefs, convictions, and our version of the truth. Every aspect of war, for example, is premised on a willingness to die for one’s convictions. According to Harding, this is the “correlate of doubt, not of certainty.”
Downtime is a good way to diffuse emotions and create room in the prefrontal cortex for thinking through alternatives and solutions. During this thinking time-out, it is imperative to ask yourself:
- Where do I derive my thoughts and opinions (and if I’m inflexible, why)?
- What do I hope to gain (in other words, what role does self-gratification play in this conflict)?
- How should I best address this problem and what questions should I ask in the interest of a mutual resolution?
- What evidence will I readily accept as truth (science only, credible/reliable sources, trust/intuition)?
- How does any outcome affect my safety or security (and if so, why or why not)?
- Why is this conflict happening in the first place (and did I play a role in creating it)?
- What can I do to promote resolution (compromise, alternative ideas, etc.)?
It is human nature to feel threatened by others (mainly due to fear), to be competitive (mainly to serve our ego), or to be distrustful (leading to micromanagement or spying). It is a character flaw to use critical or disparaging remarks to describe others or their efforts. When we work so hard to protect ourselves that we don’t consider the thoughts and opinions of others, we actually do nothing more than form resentment and grudges that serve to erode the relationship. Conflict is serious, but when taken too seriously too soon, a new problem is created — the inability to deal with the conflict effectively.
When You Cannot Resolve Conflict
Conflicts are often clouded by fear. Dr. Phil reminds us that our number one fear is rejection and our number one need is acceptance. Conflict resolution will be radically undermined by the concept there has to be a winner and a loser — one person rejected; one person accepted. Instead, it’s more valuable to think of conflict in terms of team building, solution finding, and a win for the collective agenda albeit at the sacrifice of personal agendas.
While defeat isn’t always optimal, it is a necessary part of growth. It teaches us humility and it reminds us to lean into the perspectives of others without judgment. Self-respect stems from self-control. When we lose control of our emotions, it is seldom something we are proud of and anger is the usual culprit. Anger and the angry words that follow are NOT a necessary part of growth and nothing more than a stunt man for hurt, fear or frustration. However, anger can teach us to better understand where our own emotions are coming from if we listen to it and channel it properly.
Remembering what is in your control and what’s out of your control can go a long way toward reducing anger and maintaining civility in a conflictual setting.
|In Your Control||Out of Your Control|
Your thoughts, actions, opinions, and intentions
The thoughts, actions, opinions, and intentions of others
Your goals and boundaries
The goals and boundaries of others
Your conduct, beliefs, and virtues
The conduct, beliefs, and virtues of others
What you think of yourself and what you give your energy to
What other’s think of you and what they give their energy to
The past and/or the future
Active Listening with an open mind (seeing through someone else’s lens)
Being Shut Out or Closed-Off (seeing things only through your personal lens)
Being disrespectful towards others does not devalue anyone but yourself!
Your experience and perspective can never equal the experience and perspective of another. We all walk in different shoes. For this reason, it is almost certain that the best attempts at resolving conflict will break down from time to time. Adhering to these basic concepts for resolving a dispute can help move us in a positive direction. If things go astray, remember your role in a conflict setting is to be respectful. Being disrespectful does not devalue anyone but yourself!
I debated heavily about whether to publish this or not. The article is the outgrowth of a tremendous amount of conflict in my life, which led me to learn more about why people react the way they do to conflict. Some of us can be cool cucumbers, while others are quick to fly off the handle with certain triggers. I’ve certainly done some of both in my six decades on this planet! In the end, I felt that what I learned was worth sharing with others, and I still remain hopeful that it will still help me navigate the turbulence I now face in my life.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.