Sometimes, it’s like banging your head against a brick wall. A conflict is escalating out of your control and every time you try and resolve it or even manage it, things get worse. I’ve been in this situation and I’m sure you have too.
It might be that you feel so secure that you are right that you carry on with legal proceedings despite legal costs mounting or maybe your anger and frustration with the lack of a desirable response from the other person is ruining a valuable relationship.
There are plenty of ways that you can turn things around and some academics believe that this is best done when there has been a softening of both sides. For example, the conflict has dragged on for so long that you both realise how damaging it is or you are both just depleted of energy. Before getting to that point, go through some crucial conflict considerations to understand whether you should be making more of an effort to resolve the conflict differently.
There are, however, many reasons why your conflict strategy isn’t working and here are five to get you thinking.
The Reasons It’s Not Working
- You’ve forgotten your emotional options. Anger, frustration, rage, hurt. These are recurrent emotions I come across when resolving conflict. It’s completely normal to feel them together with a diminished sense of self-esteem and respect. Our emotions are powerful and channelled in the right way, can add vigour and energy to a project or relationship but they can also cloud your judgment. This is true of negative emotions as well as positive. We may see life through rose-tinted glasses which may not always be appropriate. If you feel your emotions are getting the better of you, pause, get some distance and when you have calmed down again, change how you engage with the other person.
- Communication has become destructive. This could result from strong emotions. Using insulting or disrespectful language could easily escalate conflict as can the silent treatment. Acknowledging emotions, apologising, expressing your own emotions in a healthy manner can all make headway in breaking down walls to a resolution. I’ve certainly communicated badly in the past, especially when I felt furious but an apology or even an acknowledgment of the hurt that I caused built bridges in our communication. That’s an act of self-accountability that requires some amount of eating humble pie.
- You haven’t adapted your style to the conflict. Every conflict is different and as it changes and develops, you’ll need to adapt your strategy. You may find that certain aspects of a conflict require making concessions, especially if they are not important to you but in other areas, both of you could benefit from taking a win/win approach and finding creative solutions to satisfy both of your interests.
- Positional bargaining is more important to you than needs and interests. Sticking to an ego-driven narrative that you are right and the other is wrong will keep you in conflict. That works in a legal dispute if you can afford mounting legal fees but if you can’t, moving away from positions and towards identifying needs and interests will prevent a stalemate.
- You’re finding it hard to empathise. That’s understandable when you are in conflict but it can mean you lose perspective. Start thinking about the other person as a human being with needs, desires and interests just like you. You might find out that they are the same as yours. The first that you have in common which may even be the cause of the conflict, is a need to be respected, to have healthy self-esteem and to have an appropriate level of intimacy and connection with all beings. Seeing people in this way will stop your experiences from turning them into the enemy and allow you to view the conflict differently. If you can’t do that because you are angry, try and identify which of your needs are unfulfilled. Perhaps instead of anger, you really feel hurt by somebody’s behaviour because your needs were neglected in some way.
- Your timing isn’t right. Parties negotiate when they believe the other options for resolving conflict will be too costly and damaging. It’s often referred to as a mutually hurting stalemate and refers to the situation when both parties realise they cannot win and continuing the conflict will harm them. Ultimately, both parties need to perceive that at this point in the conflict, a negotiated settlement is possible. This helps with the timing of initiating negotiations and parallels can be drawn with inter-personal or employment disputes.
There are always ways to resolve conflict. The important thing is that you manage it before it causes you more harm than you can handle. You might even want to seek the help of a mediator.
Leave me a comment to let me know what you think!