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Conflict Management 101

Once upon a time, I took a course where I was asked to consider methods for dealing with conflict. Although the context of discussions focused on workplace issues, the practical application was relevant to all relationship types. Note: I am not offering professional counseling advice...just a common sense way to view conflict in everyday life.

Four corners of conflict management If memory serves, these were the four methods, or styles, of conflict management I was asked to consider (in no particular order):

  • Avoidance - used to circumvent arguments; deflection; allow others to "cool off" or forget the issue

  • Mediation - a 3rd party (preferably unbiased) gets involved in the resolution

  • Negotiation - strategize to "squash" the conflict; quid pro quo; "peace-making"

  • Confrontation - defensive strategy; "head-on" approach; seeks immediate resolution; sometimes leads to "blow-ups"

CONFLICT IS not NEGATIVE It may sound cliché but hear me out: conflict, in and of itself, is not negative. Attitudes, emotions, and reactions to conflict are what determine the outcomes. Conflict can be positive when viewed as a means of interrupting the status quo and forming a space to openly share ideas. If everyone always agrees on everything, there would cease to be creation and innovation. There is little to no growth without some form of conflict.

While most people tend to connect one of the four conflict management styles to their personality type, it's more effective to view the styles through a situational lens. For example, confrontation is likely necessary when your teenager "borrows" the family van for a joyride; mediation may be best to deal with the lazy coworker who takes credit for your ideas. Neither situation is comfortable, but the presence of conflict provides an opportunity to minimize loss and address issues before they escalate.

The key to handling conflict is a balanced approach of evaluating the importance of relationships, assessing consequences (for action and inaction), and practicing self-awareness. With the teen, remember you are shaping an adult and the relationship will (hopefully) be a life-long adventure; and while there may be some degree of investment in the co-worker, the connection is still relatively temporary. In both situations, one should aim to responsibly manage emotions and respond in ways that don't put additional stress on the relationship.

Lastly, it's good to acknowledge that not all conflicts will be resolved successfully (do the words "agree to disagree" sound familiar?). Negotiation will not always end favorably; confrontation is unhealthy when engaged in hostility; mediation might cause greater discord if the 3rd person is part of the conflict; and avoidance can lead to passive aggression or unresolved animosity.

The Golden Rule Everyone knows we should "treat others the way we want to be treated." This paraphrase is derived from Matthew 7:12, "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them..." (NKJV). Yep, Jesus said it first. The Bible also says to do all that you can to live in peace with everyone (Romans 12:18, NLT).

It's impossible to live this life without encountering conflict. Whatever the source, try to not prejudge the other person and instead view the issue from balanced perspective. When disagreement or differences of opinion arise, choose a course of action that will benefit those involved. Understand that not all conflicts will be resolved. Sometimes, the best we can do is carefully choose and skillfully use the conflict management style we discern is appropriate for the situation.

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