Conflict As A Means To A Solution


There are many people who assume that conflict would destroy their relationship and, as a consequence, assiduously avoid any serious argument. They convince themselves that a conflict doesn’t really exist but that if they just ignore it, it will disappear.

They see conflict as a sign that their relationship is not working and so leave the problem to grow and become an invisible wall between them.

However, it is often not the conflict itself that can destroy a relationship, but the avoidance of recognising it.

In a healthy relationship, problems that arise are dealt with on a regular basis in which both parties recognise that some discussion and/or action needs to be taken to resolve it. An issue that fails to be addressed can turn into an unwanted plant that can grow, often unseen, to take over your garden.

In fact, conflict can help a relationship grow where all parties are respectful of each other and their differing points of view. If two people respect each other, then they should be able to develop a conflict resolution style that will work well for them.

Jane and Thomas, who are thinking about getting married, are in my consultancy room and I try to determine the degree of dignity and respect they have by the way they look at, listen to and speak to each other. I believe that as they possess these attributes and that they will be able to deal with any problem that may require resolution in the future.

However, in an adjoining room, another couple, Bill and Mary, sit far away from each other on the couch facing me. They fail to look at each other and appear not to listen to what the other person is saying, but continually interrupt.

They are apparently competing for time and space in the conversation. This couple clearly do not appear to have the mutual respect that is a necessary to deal with day-to-day matters, never mind conflict.

In the workplace, there will always be situations that need talking through — whether it be issues such as distribution of work, time-keeping or overall responsibility for departmental targets, etc. When conflict is dealt with in a constructive and effective way, there will be room for greater understanding and growth between the two parties to any dispute.

So how can you approach conflict in a way that will enhance either your personal or business relationship?

  • Communicate: Communication is the key to resolving conflict by not only listening to what is said but also how it is being said. Also by having an openness of mind and not interrupting with your point of view. And fostering a sense of empathy by thinking how you might feel if you were in the other’s shoes.
  • Actively participate: In talking through your issue, aim to have a ‘win-win’ resolution that is acceptable to all parties. Actively listen to the other’s concerns when, through negotiation, you may arrive at an acceptable solution.
  • Choose the right time: The atmosphere needs to be conducive to talking and listening. Do not talk things through when irritable, hungry or rushed, but try to ensure that you release your emotions regarding the points at issue before you sit down. If not, then take a break and holdover to another day.
  • Side-to-side conversations: Sometimes, instead of sitting in a closed room, it might be easier to go for a walk in a neutral place, when your mind — although focused on what you are saying — may be beneficially diffused by unrelated matters going on around the both of you.

Conflict is part of every relationship. Even couples who have been married for many years will argue from time to time when they face challenges. The key to resolving conflict is not to be frightened of facing it.

That which separates healthy couples from others is their ability to acknowledge the existence of conflict within their relationship and their willingness to approach it with both an open mind and respect for the other side.


Key points

* Conflict is like getting older — it’s inevitable.

* The secret is to recognise and deal with it — not ignore it.

* The sooner a problem is resolved, the less damage it causes.


Carole Spiers


Author of "Show Stress Who's Boss" Carole is a leading authority on workplace stress, sought after BBC guest-Broadcaster and motivational speaker. She shows managers and staff how to maintain their competitive advantage by achieving a healthy work life balance.

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