Is Conflict Normal?

I am often told by those who avoid confrontation, that conflict isn’t normal and if you are arguing with somebody, there’s something wrong. That is how we often view conflict, that because you are arguing with somebody or several people, your relationships are out of sync.

That may be true. But conflict isn’t always a negative event.

What is conflict?

Conflict is a general state of hostilities which is accompanied by an emotional response. Sometimes, those emotions are so engulfing that you can’t even remember what the problem is. A dispute or an argument is about getting to the root of that emotional reaction. It’s about putting into words, what is causing you to be angry, hurt, frustrated, hysterical etc. When you do that, you can work out how you can resolve it.

When is conflict helpful?

Avoidance may be part of your conflict strategy. You may have decided that in this particular scenario, you are prepared to lose the battle to win the war. Imagine that your manager has an irritating habit of eating loudly at his desk and over time, you start to find this irritating. Telling your manager to eat quietly could be an option (and thereby using  direct confrontation) but you may decide to just move desks to avoid the problem. That way, you devote less energy to a situation which probably won’t go away. This could offend your manager which, if done in an unpleasant manner, could exacerbate the conflict. How could this play out over the long-term?

Conflict and Change

Without conflict, the status quo remains. In other words, avoiding it prevents you from growing and the relationship from moving forward.

If you look at any society, change is brought about through conflict. Would women have been given the vote without the chaos caused by the Suffragettes? Would South Africa have abolished apartheid without non-violent protest ?

On a more personal level, if your partner is not respecting your values this may cause you to feel undervalued and angry. If you want that to change, talking to your partner about how you feel and why this value is important to you will allow both of you to (1) grow; (2) maintain the relationship; or (3) move on.

For years, I kept repeating the same pattern at work of not really asking for what I wanted. I had semi-honest conversations about wanting a promotion and nothing changed, including a sense of feeling unacknowledged!

Conflict is everywhere

I want you to feel comfortable with conflict because ultimately, it’s about your response to emotions. You have no choice because it’s play a key role in all of our relationships. Even if you do your best to avoid it, you will still feel the emotions that they provoke. It can be scary and intimidating, especially if it gets aggressive or violent but it is part of the price we pay for living with other human beings.

Tips for the Conflict Avoidant Person

If your natural tendency is to avoid conflict, think about this:

  1. Confrontation does not have to be big and scary. It’s just dialogue, words, discussions that may have an emotional impact on you and the other but understanding that simple truth is the first step to overcoming it.
  2. Before confronting somebody about an issue, try putting into words exactly what the problem is and why it is causing you to feel what you feel.
  3. If you communicate openly, calmly and honestly, this may result in the same from the other person.
  4. As a starting point, be polite, humble and respectful. You may find that this naturally leads to an apology or another resolution that suits you both.

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