Why I love conflict (and steer clear of sharks...)
Conflict is a catalyst for change, and change is the thing we can always count on. It is, as they say, the only constant!
Much of the time when people think about conflict, they think about fights, disagreements, violence and pain. Then come the bubbling thoughts and feelings that are uncomfortable, nervous and sometimes unbearable! These thoughts and feelings often lead to a desire to avoid the discomfort. The issue here is, if change is the only constant, and conflict is a catalyst for change, isn’t conflict also a constant part of our lives? Now what if we simply avoided all the discomforts that arose from conflict? We would then be avoiding our whole lives...
But wait, if I only loved the parts of conflict that felt icky, I’d be kidding myself! (No one REALLY likes the icky stuff…) There’s more! Let’s look deeper.
Conflict comes from three main areas:
I often make the argument that ALL conflict in the whole world can fit into these three categories. I have yet to find one that doesn’t.
When I work with people who are experiencing conflict in their lives, they are often focused on the “missing pieces” that I mentioned above: “differing”; “unmet”; and “limited”. Of course they are! These are the parts that hurt. When you stub your toe, or break your arm, where are you focused? On the painful parts! So why I love conflict is in the other parts. The parts where we find a way to understand differences, meet needs and increase resources. Those missing pieces that we’re focused on during stress and disagreements are the exact clues that can lead to those pieces not being missing anymore! It’s a life-sized jigsaw puzzle! The puzzle pieces can be incredible tools when we decide to see them as clues, instead of persecutions from the world or other people.
If I’m experiencing a conflict with someone, let’s say, a disagreement about which route to take to get downtown (different beliefs, likely also an unmet need for power/control/freedom). I can recognize my feelings, beliefs, values and needs in that situation and consider the other persons as well. Acknowledging our beliefs, thoughts and ideas about what the best route is and why can really clear up a disagreement. (“Remember that there’s been construction on the highway that way so we should take back roads” or “I really like driving on the highway because there aren’t any long stop lights and we get better gas mileage” etc..) When we’ve both been acknowledged for our feelings and values, more often than not the conflict will resolve. Even if we didn’t end up going the way I wanted to, I at least got to explain why I believed I was right! In the end, we get to the same place and a deeper understanding of each other has helped us not hold onto those icky parts that we experience when we’re not understood or recognized for our deep-held values. (**Stay tuned for another blog about how to make sure we’re being heard and hearing correctly in these instances!**)
When we delve deeper into the roots of conflict, we begin our steps toward growing and learning and making the inevitable change a positive experience. Because, whether we like it or not: We ARE agents of change. Someone who says that they can have no influence on the world, WILL absolutely still change things anyway. In fact, I can firmly say that I’ve never met someone who won’t change the world; who hasn’t changed the world already, just by their mere existence.
So as an agent of change, therefore a participant in conflict, how are you changing the world?
Applying this change principle to conflicts that we experience can be quite liberating. Conflict is an inevitable part of our lives, and it’s what leads to the changes that will reliably happen. It’s not always a huge big blowout moment of epic proportions. It begins with noticing what is motivating this conflict for you. What are the other person’s values, needs or resources that are being challenged? If you start seeing those pieces when the conflict seems small, doesn’t it make sense that those same beliefs would come up again for you when the conflict seems stressful or even painful?
I’ve adopted the idea that conflict = opportunity.
When I hear about other’s conflicts or encounter my own, I am now overcome with a feeling of excitement that comes when there is a new experience or adventure to take on! With it comes those same --bubbling feelings, nerves and tingles-- but it’s the kind that comes with a roller coaster or a first date, not like seeing a shark or being in a car accident!!
I get to be a detective, not a victim to my conflicts.
Isn’t that the difference between a problem and a solution anyway? It’s only a problem if we don’t know why it’s happening or what to do about it. Once we know the why’s and what’s it becomes a “to do” list instead of a problem.
The big lesson here is that as we begin to learn how to see our own roots and “missing” parts when we are in conflict, we can use them as clues for how to get those parts back, or obtain them at all (**Stay tuned for yet another blog on this..**). We begin to change the way we see the “icky” parts, the ways we respond, how we feel throughout the process and how the others involved feel and what they are “missing” as well. When those things change, our consequences and ultimately our impact in our own lives and the lives of others changes too.
So, ask your gut, “When I experience conflict, how do I feel?” If your reaction is that of an imminent shark attack, then maybe we need to root in more. What are the missing parts for you or others? How can you get those missing pieces back for yourself and provide them for those you are in conflict with as well? What an exciting puzzle! My wish for you is to learn to love conflict too! Hopefully you will smile with excitement in the adventure of our ever-changing lives!
Your partner in the never-ending adventures of conflict,