Mastering Conflict

After a tough conversation, have you ever felt frustrated, wondering why you didn’t express yourself clearly? Or perhaps the discussion spiralled into confusion, losing sight of what really mattered? Maybe you struggled to keep your emotions in check? If any of these scenarios sound familiar, know that you’re not alone. Conflict often shifts from addressing the issue to becoming a messy power struggle.

Emotions often cloud our judgment during conflict. Once the dust settles, and emotions calm down, we often see things more clearly. We then realise what we should have said. Sometimes, the emotions fade quickly, allowing us to identify the real problem, make amends, and move forward. But other times, emotions linger, leading to grudges and ongoing conflicts. In these cases, the original issue gets buried under layers of drama that can last a lifetime.

Emotions wield significant influence. But we can train ourselves to switch from emotional reactions to rational problem-solving during conflict, keeping our focus on the real issue. The first step is understanding what the “issue” truly is so that you can recognise it when it arises. In most cases, conflicts revolve around three main types of issues:

  1. Misunderstood information
  2. Difference of opinion
  3. Actions/Behaviours

Misunderstood information often stems from having different or incorrect facts. This conflict is easily resolved by identifying the lack of shared or accurate information. Sometimes, it takes a while to realise that each person is operating with different facts. Asking about everyone’s perspective can reveal this and lead to quicker resolution. The focus then shifts from who is right to what is right, which is the core issue.

The second type of conflict arises when everyone has the same information but interprets it differently. People may prioritise certain facts over others or feel a sense of urgency differently. It’s essential to keep the conversation centred on the information itself to avoid getting caught up in who’s right.

In some cases, we may need to agree to disagree. But merely acknowledging disagreement isn’t enough; we must find ways to coexist despite our differences. For instance, if you and a family member hold opposing political views, agree to disagree butestablish boundaries to avoid constant clashes. Without a plan on how to deal with disagreements, conflicts will resurface repeatedly.

The third type of conflict, concerning actions or behaviours, is the most challenging. When someone’s actions upset us, it’s easy to feel hurt and angry. But it’s crucial to separate the person from their behaviour. Detaching allows us to address the behaviour constructively, rather than attacking the individual. This approach fosters respect and dignity, even in difficult situations.

Why bother with all this effort? Because focusing on the issue prevents conflicts from escalating into personal battles. When we lose sight of the problem, conflicts can divide into factions, with each side vying for power and scoring points against the other.Eventually, this leads to undermining, where both parties engage in tactics to ensure the other side doesn’t win.

Staying focused on the issue not only resolves conflicts more effectively but also strengthens relationships in the long run. It enables us to set boundaries, stand up for our beliefs, and influence others positively. Though challenging, mastering issue-focused communication is worth the effort. It requires practice and self- control, but the payoff is smoother resolutions and healthier relationships. So, rather than dwelling on past conflicts, invest in learning to stay focused on the issue and move forward constructively.