The concept of a «non-conflict» society proved its invalidity long time ago. What we need to do is to learn how to manage conflicts instead of letting conflicts manage us. There are some easy but useful tips for making every conflict positive for our relationships, and this article provides a few of them, starting with the basics.
First of all, let us define the term conflict, because many people use this word incorrectly. Conflict actually means the opposition of people, their values, interests and beliefs, which is understood by both sides of a conflict, and leads to competitive actions in which each side aims to neutralise the other. The conflict is supposed to include subjects, objects, and concrete actions. And it is necessary for the objects to be important for each subject.
If you clearly understand that you’re involved in a conflict, what do you need to start with? First of all, it is essential to analyse the situation and get rid of the influence of emotions. The question is: how to stop feeling anger and all of the resulting negativity and substitute clear thinking? Try walking in your partner’s (not your opponent’s) shoes. And the key to getting trained in this method is hidden in «The Orange Case». What is that about?
Two brothers try to divide one orange. How can they do it? The answer seems pretty simple: one half goes to the first brother, and the other half – to the second one. But neither brother needs only one half of the fruit. Each of them wants to have the whole one. Now the task is harder than it was supposed to be. They argue, and then they stop talking to each other. But what if they could calm down and ask one another what each one needs the orange for? – It could be easy again. It could be that one brother wants to bake a pie, so he needs the peel. And the other one yearns to make some juice, so he hankers to have the pulp.
The point of this case is about how to distinguish our interests and our positions. The word “position” usually means “the way we want the situation to be”. We’re impulsive and emotional, we wish it all, and right now. But the important question is what we really need in this difficult situation. And that’s why it’s very necessary to analyse and understand interests, and not only positions. What was the position in the “orange” case? Right, having the whole orange. But the interest was to make two different products: and both brothers could do this if they started to communicate instead of holding onto their positions.
Let’s take a look at another example. Lucy meets Wren, and they seem so happy together. The girl falls in love immediately, and she wants to move into Wren’s apartment and sometimes she even thinks about their wedding. She’s 21, and this is her first serious relationship. She’s the only child in her family, and Lucy’s parents love their daughter to the moon and back. When Lucy decides to introduce Wren to her relatives, Lucy’s mother feels so terrible about this idea that she says: «If you married him and left us, you wouldn’t be my daughter anymore». It’s the quarrel they never had. Lucy’s so lost now, having no idea why her mother acts like this. She cannot make a choice between her boyfriend and her mother as she loves them both. But, actually, she doesn’t understand why she has to choose, and why her mother wants her to, especially because her mom has never seen Wren, and he’s such a nice guy. Lucy’s position is: «I’m grown enough, I’m independent and free, I love Wren, I want to marry him – and I will». The position of her mom is: «You stay home with us as I don’t like that guy. If you chose him, you would never come back home». But their interests are completely different. Lucy’s mom is simply afraid of losing her daughter. It’s always hard for parents to see how their kids grow up, grow apart from them, and become independent. Lucy’s interest is to show them she’s not a little girl now – but the method she has used to achieve the goal is too dramatic. Being aware of this makes the situation easier for both of them: Lucy knows that her mother doesn’t hate her, she’s just scared of something bad happening to her daughter. And Lucy’s mom realises that her daughter doesn’t want to leave her alone, but deserves a chance to run her own life.
Let’s get back to the theory for a moment as we need to take the second step. Being active subjects of a conflict, we tend to mix all the information we process from the situation. But we should learn how to analyse everything we face, even while we are involved in the negative interaction. There are three types of well-known reactions, all of which play a vital role in a conflict. We have to pay attention to this and realise what we must work with.
The first reaction identifies «FACTS». That’s the most objective reaction from to the situation. «FACTS» reflects the perceived reality and means something that happened in the past. For example, in our previous case with Lucy and her parents, the facts were:
- Lucy found a boyfriend and said she wanted to marry him,
- Lucy’s parents were strongly against that idea.
The second reaction is «INTERPRETATION». That’s only about our feeling of conflict. That’s the way we imagine our partner. Each one of the two brothers considered the second one to be rude, selfish, and cruel. Interpretation forms a so-called «enemy image» which has crucial consequences on the whole dynamic of any conflict.
Lucy thinks her parents hate her, and that her mother’s a terrible woman because she doesn’t want her own daughter to be happy. Lucy’s mom is terrified of her daughter’s choice because Wren seems to be a horrible man who’s eager to ruin Lucy’s life and nothing else.
The last, but not least reaction is «EMOTIONS». Emotions don’t let us see the facts and control our behaviour. The main objective is: to block all emotion in favour of constructive actions and keeping your mind «cool».
Lucy’s sad and desperate, she feels betrayed by her parents. And her mother and father try to understand what they have done wrong if their girl makes such an important decision without talking to them first. All the subjects blame themselves. But this situation need not be so drastic, if they would at least to try to listen to each other for once.
There’s nothing wrong about defending your interests and values, especially when it’s done in an appropriate way. Conflict has a positive impact when it marks out some imperfections in our communication with others, or when it helps to understand another person better. We don’t have to be afraid of conflict, but we do need to try to learn how to work with it correctly. And you can find some hints about entering into a productive dialog in a conflict situation in the next article.