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  • Deborah Moyer

Healthy Conflict: Is It Possible?

Is healthy conflict possible? Many of us have developed a higher aptitude for healthy avoidance rather than face the possibility of confrontation.

We prefer our interactions to be calm, enjoyable, or at least pleasant.

But, there are positive benefits to conflict that we may not be considering.

One benefit to conflict is that it is often the precursor to positive change. It’s a symptom of friction that says something or someone’s needs aren’t being met.

We’ve seen a lot of this lately with national and local unrest. People are taking to the streets to let their community know change is required. Their needs either aren’t being met or taken into consideration in some social or political way.

They may have similar desires for change to occur, but people don’t always approach their grievances the same way.

Some will take to the streets in quiet, respectful protest. Others believe their only choice to be heard is through violence or destruction.

Communication is key

But, clearly, creating pain in others or winning by intimidation isn’t healthy or beneficial. It also doesn’t help to foster one of the most effective tools in resolving conflict: communication.

Without open dialog, adversaries can’t understand the other person’s perspectives or the reasons behind the conflict.

Without understanding both sides, finding a positive resolution is almost impossible.

Think back to the last time you had an argument with someone that really frustrated you.

Was it because they weren’t open to your perspective or another point of view? Did they cut you off and refuse to listen to any opinion but their own?

Respect and Trust

In an online article called “Healthy v. Unhealthy Conflict” by Ellen Kandell of Alternative Resolutions, she states that for conflict to be healthy it has “to be based on respect and trust. Participants must be able to express thoughts without being bullied.”

At the very core of our human capacity to connect, we want to feel valued and respected when we interact with others.

We may not agree with another person’s opinion, but we always do better when we approach conflict with a mindset of openness.

Healthy conflict encourages the exchange of ideas and rewards through innovation and creative solutions.

Unhealthy Conflict

But, too often we default to the unhealthier version of conflict where tempers flare and we focus on winning at all costs.

If you are facing a situation where conflict has gotten to an elevated stage where reactions are overheated or physically threatening, step away. Continuing to engage will only make matters worse.

In her article, Ms. Kandell explains where to start that process.

In a healthy disagreement, the goal shouldn’t be to win or to have the other person change their mind and agree with you. The goal should be understanding the other person’s perspective or viewpoint to find common ground and mutual understanding so that both can move forward.”

Since conflict is just part of the human condition, it’s best to have a strategy when you feel you’re heading for a disagreement.

Assertive Communication

Approaching a challenging issue early and in a positive way can help you avoid hurt feelings, and stubborn tendencies from developing, both of which can slow the resolution process.

She suggests using “assertive communication” to get your point across.

Assertive communication isn’t angry or threatening. It avoids being personal or emotional and focuses on facts and honesty.

Here are a few more ideas you can use to ensure your conversation is positive and productive:

1. Affirm the person you’re in conflict with.

In the years since I started my coaching practice, I found that affirming what a person is trying to convey to you goes a long way in letting them know you are present and focused.

By affirming I mean saying something like “I know we probably won’t agree on every point here, but I respect you and like to know more about why you feel that way about “X”.

It’s your way of letting them know you are open to their perspective and respect them as a person. It helps to defuse defensiveness and allow for more honest interaction.

2. Be open to the possibility that you could be wrong.

I know that can be hard for many people to swallow sometimes, especially when it’s a subject that brings up an emotional response. But the reality is we don’t always know all the facts in a situation and we may be pleasantly surprised.

Is there a possibility that an issue that appears to you to be as clear as black and white might be more in the grey zone than you think?

3. Know what you can control and what you can’t.

So often we engage in conflict because we’re frustrated about something we feel isn’t fair or right. We feel we need to fight the good fight to change something, even though we may not have any true power to do so.

Starting a war that you can’t finish, much less win, will never qualify as a healthy conflict.

So, before you fully engage with an adversary, be sure to assess whether there are conditions within the situation that can’t be changed regardless of any effort to do so.

There is always an opportunity to discuss options, ideas, or solutions for any challenge that you don’t have direct control over though. But it only works if you are dealing with a person or entity that is open to discussing ideas for change.

4. Manage conflict without judgment.

Going into a conflict with preconceived judgments about the issue, or the person involved, is a recipe for disaster.

Staying open is critical to a solutions-based dialog, so leave any limiting beliefs, old grudges, or emotions at the door.

Otherwise, your adversary will quickly understand you’re not working toward a win-win for both sides, but toward a one-sided resolution that only benefits you.

Try one, or all, of these suggestions the next time conflict comes knocking at your door and spend some time observing reactions on both sides.

You may be surprised to find how much easier conflict is in the future and you’ll most certainly be healthier for it.

So, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!