The theme of my week has been conflicts, primarily in relation to money, however it has also touched other subjects. It has been interesting, because I have been both on the receiving end of criticism and complaints as well as on the giving end of criticism and complaints. Having had a taste of both worlds – it opened up some interesting realizations.
I realized that the normal way we tend to approach dissatisfaction with products/services is by anger/frustration. We feel harmed and unjustly treated – and we approach the other person in that state of anger/frustration and discontent. Oftentimes this results in more conflict, more irritation, more anger, and more confusion. We start to fight instead of coming up with solutions – and we believe that the other person is out to get us – instead of seeing that it could be a honest mistake – and that we could potentially have a mature, and stable discussion about what we are unsatisfied with and find a solution together.
A better way to approach conflicts is by being humble, being open to hearing the other perspective and being open to consider solutions that are mutually effective. Disputes where both parties decide to go full on for their own desired outcome with no quarters are really destructive. In a best-case scenario, one of the parties’ wins – in a worst-case scenario – both lose. Fighting, it always creates losers, which is why it is pretty fascinating to see how often we choose this route. And it is not because of reasons that we can explain rationally, it is because of how we feel – and we seek our perceived version of justice through the conflict. The problem is that we seldom see the problem, the area of conflict, with any clarity because everything is very much shrouded by our own self-interest – and having regard and empathy for our opponent can in such a case feel like a weakness. Though it is the ability to keep a cool head and place ourselves in the position of the other party that will allow us to find a solution that is going to work both for the other and us.
Another difficult emotional experience that can make conflicts hard to solve is idea that we have to stand by our feeling of being wronged because it is a matter of principle. The problem is that the ‘principled’ party is unable to consider anything else but their own principle, or rather, their own emotional experience. The ‘principled’ party will thus seldom be able to expand their seeing to take into consideration the other party as well – and will oftentimes stick to their demands stubbornly. And there will be a great fear of letting go of the emotional experience because of the belief, that if we do, then we have admitted defeat. That is obviously not the case. Defeat is subjective, and in the case of conflicts, defeat would be to not find a solution that is effective and works for both parties.
Conflicts are a natural, recurring and big part of social life. It comes through in nearly all type of relationships, whether with humans or animals. Learning to deal with conflicts is because of that an important skill to acquire. A basic component of dealing with conflicts effectively is communication. I would say that bad communication and the consequential misunderstandings are the prime reason for the creation and continuation of conflicts.
Recently I have watched a Danish TV series that is about a collective with young people that are brought together in order to research their personalities and behaviors. Naturally, many conflicts, emotional experiences and misunderstandings occur. For example, two people initiate a sexual relationship hurriedly. One of them does not see a future with the relationship, the other falls in love. Neither of them communicates their experiences. Thus the one that is not interested in continuing feels bogged down and stalked and the one feeling in love feels rejected and becomes increasingly sad and emotional. And the conflict is created because neither party communicates about how they feel, their intentions and their aspirations.
The reasons why we decide to not communicate in such situations probably differ from person to person. If it would be me, I would most likely hold back because of fear of being vulnerable. However others might not share their experience because they believe the other person already knows. Sometimes we become so lost in our thoughts, and they become such a big part of our life, that we believe that everyone else has access to them as well. However, that is not the case. In order to break through and find solutions we must dare to be vulnerable and also understand that we cannot expect anyone to understand unless we have communicated and clarified our position. It is basic common sense and still it is normal to lack such basic skills of communication.
Another example that read of in a book about learning how to negotiate is the following. Worker A is pissed off because his chief B always selects him to lead the one of the most physically exhausting undertakings. He thinks that B is singling him out and is punishing him. Thus A decides to contact his union and refuse to follow orders. B on the other hand reasons that because A is one of is best and most trusted workers, he chooses A to head the difficult undertaking, because then B knows that the job gets done. This is a clear-cut example of how the lack of communication creates conflicts. If A would have voiced himself and if B would have explained is reasoning, there would most likely not have been any issue between the two.
Thus, to summarize: To avoid conflicts, effective communication, empathy and openness are required. We must embrace the possibility that the other party is not necessarily evil, but that there might be a misunderstanding or a miss-match of expectations. Through communication we are able to find and resolve differences and establish solutions that work for both parties.
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