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Part 7 in Relationship Series

Updated: May 24, 2023

When There’s Conflict

Conflict is inevitable between people or groups of people. What determines whether the conflict becomes a source of greater understanding and connection--or a source of angst, drama and suffering--is how the different parties involved in the conflict respond to each other. This is determined by a number of things: one’s emotional and psychological understanding of how they are being triggered by the conflict; one’s ability to understand why the other person or people are upset or are having difficulty with the situation; the skill set of listening and speaking that one brings to the situation; and what particular view of conflict that a person has, particularly whether conflict is seen as a battle to be won or an opportunity for greater understanding, personal growth, and a deepening of the relationship.

This view has a direct impact on all the other aspects of how we engage with conflict. If we are competing to win, our behavior will more likely be aggressive and combative. Our attention will be focused on strategizing how we can win the battle. What is happening internally for ourselves or the other person will not be noticed. Our choice of words and how we say them will serve to deepen and entrench the conflict. If our view of conflict is one of opportunity, it will tend to have the opposite influence on our choice of words and behavior and will help to ease and bring an end to the conflict.

Understanding how we may be triggered in a conflict will help us to approach the situation with as much clarity as possible. When we can be aware of and own how we are being triggered, we are much less likely to project that difficulty onto the other person. Our hearts will be softer, as we connect with the suffering that is occuring in us. This soft heart will be much more able to be with and hold any acting out from the other person. Furthermore, if we are able to, and feel safe enough to, we can let the other person know what is happening for us, so that they know our behavior is not about them. This can go a long way toward diffusing the conflict.

In addition to understanding how and why we are being triggered by the conflict, we can try to understand what is happening for the other person. This is where some of the speaking and listening techniques that are talked about in those articles come into play. To understand, we need to ask questions, and we won’t do that if we are too busy proving our point. We really have to want to understand. To the degree that both parties in a conflict can understand why the other is having difficulty will be to the degree that the conflict can begin to resolve. In fact, Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Non-Violent Communication, said that if he can get each party to understand the other, he’ll need only fifteen minutes to resolve the conflict, regardless of whether it is around the most protracted and entrenched international conflicts of our time.

As referred to above, the communication skill sets that we bring to a conflict will play an important role in how the conflict goes. It’s one thing to have a wholesome intention. It’s another to be able to speak and listen in ways that will enable that intention to come to fruition. Some very basic communication skills to bring to conflict include the following:

  • When listening, don’t interrupt. Holding space lets the person speaking know you are present and care about what they are saying. Interrupting tells them you are not listening and are in a combative stance.

  • When speaking, keep what you are saying focused on yourself. Talk about why it’s hard for you, not all the reasons the other person is in the wrong. Your intention is to help them understand you, not to make them wrong.

There are many, many more communication skills one can learn. And, if just these two were practiced by both parties during a conflict, it would support the easing rather than the deepening of the conflict.

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Mar 07, 2023

During that time of not interupting is a good time to check into how the body is feeling.

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