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Confronting Conflicts – Part 2

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As addressed in the last article, there are at least three levels at which conflict occurs; within our selves, between two people, between systems/organizations and any combination of the above.

The second level at which conflict occurs is as we move into relationship with others. If we have taken the time for the self-assessment described in the last article, we set ourselves up for success in our negotiations in relation to others. We can only expect to negotiate effectively if we have clarified what we believe in and who we, individually, want to be. If not, we are likely to find ourselves in a situations where we are swayed by the apparent clarity, emotions or intensity of the others’ stand, only to realize later, that we feel frustrated and dissatisfied with the interaction, without knowing why. In such situations we may unintentionally commit ourselves to something that we don’t really want or believe. There have been times for most of us when we said something, only to find that as soon as the words come out of our mouth, we realized that it was not what we really believed. In such cases it is not that we are intentionally being untruthful, but only that until that moment, we didn’t realize our own truth. If, at this point of realization, we stay silent, we are putting ourselves in turmoil with our own inner wishes as well as postponing the conflict with the other person. The result of this type of conflict often seems to be an interpersonal conflict, when it is frequently the seepage of inner turmoil: resentment, awareness of lack of honesty and courage in being true to the self.

Honesty and clarity of personal beliefs, values and limits, is an important element not only in our relationships with ourselves, but is also key in our relationships with others. When we can openly discuss our personal vision, values and beliefs with others, it has the potential to create the trust that is the foundation of healthy relationships.

Central to resolving interpersonal conflict is the ability, for each of us, to take the time, prior to conflicts occurring, to develop a personal vision of our ideal relationship. This is different from our vision of who we want to be. Once our personal vision of the ideal relationship in place, the next step is to focus on how we see ourselves behaving as if we were actually in this kind of relationship. Now each person is in a position to share his or her ideal relationship vision with the other, looking for areas of agreement. There are times when two people will be unable to find common ground, but this occurs less than we might think. Having found common ground, it then becomes possible to look at the differences between the individual visions. The next task is to negotiate aspects that we are will to be flexible about while still being true to ourselves, and to identify those areas in which we are unwilling to bend.

Along with sharing and negotiating, planning is an important strategy to resolving conflict. It is possible to minimize conflict by planning fun, shared activities, as well as planning time to talk about hopes, issues, and concerns. Time spent on each of these areas can nurture a relationship. When we are clear about our own personal position in a conflict, it becomes easier, in spite of the emotion, to talk about the feelings, thoughts and values behind the conflict. Planning can help determine how we will fulfill our lives in ways that fit with the values we hold. This sometimes means that rather than pushing for my solution or yours, we look for a third solution, one that reflects the values we each hold while embracing our individual differences. These will not be “right” answers, but rather creative solutions chosen from a myriad of options. This act of being able to rise above our individual solutions, looking for “better than either” solution can in itself develop a special glue in relationships. It’s called partnership.

Look for the next issue on Confronting Conflicts: Systems conflicts.