Perceiving conflict

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How do you perceive conflict?

How do you perceive conflict?

Do you fear conflict or avoid it at all costs?  If your perception of conflict comes from frightening or painful memories from previous unhealthy relationships or early childhood, you may expect all present-day disagreements to end badly.  You may view conflict in relationships as demoralizing, humiliating, dangerous, and something to fear.  If your early life experiences also left you feeling out of control and powerless, conflict may even be traumatizing for you.

If you view conflict as dangerous, it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When you go into a conflict situation already feeling extremely threatened, it’s tough to deal with the problem at hand in a healthy way.  Instead, you are more likely to shut down or blow up in anger.

Healthy and unhealthy ways of managing and resolving conflict

Healthy responses to conflict:

  • The capacity to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person
  • Calm, non-defensive, and respectful reactions
  • A readiness to forgive and forget, and to move past the conflict without holding resentments or anger
  • The ability to seek compromise and avoid punishing
  • A belief that facing conflict head on is the best thing for both sides

Unhealthy responses to conflict:

  • An inability to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person
  • Explosive, angry, hurtful, and resentful reactions
  • The withdrawal of love, resulting in rejection, isolation, shaming, and fear of abandonment
  • An inability to compromise or see the other person’s side
  • The fear and avoidance of conflict; the expectation of bad outcomes

Conflict resolution, stress, and emotions

Conflict triggers strong emotions and can lead to hurt feelings, disappointment, and discomfort.  When handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable rifts, resentments, and break-ups. But when conflict is resolved in a healthy way, it increases our understanding of one another, builds trust, and strengthens our 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.  And, if you don’t understand your own needs, you will have a hard time communicating with others and staying in touch with what’s really troubling you.  For example, couples often argue about petty differences—the way she hangs the towels, the way he slurps his soup—rather than what is really bothering them.

The ability to successfully resolve conflict depends on your ability to:

  • Manage stress quickly while remaining alert and calm.  By staying calm, you can accurately read and interpret verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Control your emotions and behavior.  When you’re in control of your emotions, you can 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 of and respectful of differences.  By avoiding disrespectful words and actions, you can almost always resolve a problem faster.

To successfully resolve a conflict, you will need to learn and practice two core skills: the ability to quickly reduce stress in the moment and the ability to remain comfortable enough with your emotions to react in constructive ways even in the midst of an argument or a perceived attack.

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