Conflict is a fact of life. It can and will arise at any time. The most important thing about conflict is how you resolve it, it really can make or break a relationship, it's your choice.
The first step to conflict resolution is to decide on an appropriate strategy. You can only decide on a strategy when you understand which type of conflict you are dealing with.
There are 3 main types of conflict
- Personal or relational conflicts are usually about identity or self-image, or important aspects of a relationship such as loyalty, breach of confidence or lack of respect.
- Instrumental conflicts are about goals, structures, procedures and means: something fairly tangible and structural within the organisation or for an individual.
- Conflicts of interest concern the ways in which the means of achieving goals are distributed. They may also be about factors related to these, such as relative importance, or knowledge/expertise. An example would be a couple disagreeing over whether to spend a bonus on a holiday or to repair the roof.
Typically, as a guiding rule, the earlier you deal with a conflict the better. This is because positions are not so entrenched, other people haven't been involved and the negative emotions are not so extreme.
- Don't react - this is usually most appropriate for personal or relational conflicts, where a comment has been made for a specific reaction from you.It takes two to play tug-of-war, and if you refuse to engage, there is no game to be played. An intentional pause serves as a mirror for the antagoniser. Let their words reverberate in the silence. Hopefully, this will inspire reflection and awareness. Importantly if you refuse to sink to the same level, you can be the bigger person and anchor the conflict in a more civil place before it spirals downward.
- Dont mask your feelings with anger - this can be used in all three conflict scenarios. If a comment/response is upsetting ensure that you respond from a place of sadness and not anger. Typically when we are angry, it is to protect our feelings of sadness. When we speak from our anger, we can scare people, make them defensive, and negatively impact our relationships. When we speak from our hurt and show our vulnerabilities, we come across as authentic and are not as threatening to others. If we teach others how to care for our wounds, rather than hurt them back, we can expedite the resolution process.
- Before speaking, check it's relevance - take advice from Shirdi Sai Baba and ask yourself 3 questions "Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” If the answer to just one of these questions is no, hold your tongue and choose words that meet all three of these criteria.
- Be clear about what you need - sometimes we want people to magically know what we need to resolve the situation. This is normal, yet irrational. Speed things along by being specific about what you need (i.e. “I need for you to say you are sorry for calling me that name”).
- Utilise the aftermath intimacy - yes, conflict is not ideal but if it's resolved appropriately, you can enjoy the intimacy that comes after. Naturally, you become closer to the other person - you have just survived a conflict, together, which highlights the fact that your relationship has value.
Working on conflict resolution, is a life-long process. It's an excellent tool for introspection. If you are strong enough to admit mistakes and ignore a damaged ego, than you will start to enjoy improved, deeper relationships.