Conflict - a way beyond differences to personal growth
Updated: Sep 3
If you ever sat down and analysed your arguments with your partner or friends, you might have noticed that there is a certain pattern in which the whole thing advances. Some of us respond from a place of curiosity and attempt to understand what the other party is saying, while some of us might feel attacked by the other party and find that instead of responding, we react.
While in the former case, it is easier for the conversation to stay on track and both parties arriving on some sort of a middle ground or even say to ‘agree to disagree’, in the latter scenario the conversation becomes about something else altogether with both parties feeling increasingly frustrated and grossly misunderstood.
Depending on the nature of the relationship, often the effect of one such tiff can be tragic, with the two parties sometimes saying goodbye forever and losing that relationship. While these days cancel culture is rampant in social and professional circles, the truth is that it only helps achieve a more isolated and divided society.
Impact of cancel culture:
Cancel culture is easy. You don’t agree or stand by with someone’s opinion or stance, kick them out of your life and maintain a semblance of peace in your life. Maintaining a relationship despite differences, however, needs a lot more effort and work.
If you really think about it, every time we disagreed with someone and cancelled them, what did we learn from it? Was there an opportunity for growth for us? In such situations, we must ask ourselves this – Is the discomfort of the other person’s stance really unbearable or are we simply shying away from any world view that doesn’t align with ours?
By sticking to what we believe in, it may help us maintain some peace, however the real question is how stable is this peace?
One of the reasons we shy away and are uncomfortable with disagreements is because, very often we don’t have the know-how to navigate the metaphorical murky waters of conflict.
Conflict resolution while an important life skill, needs practice and tact. Like many life skills, we learn it from our parents or other trusting adults as kids which we then refine over the years.
However, if conflict was a ‘no-go’ in your home - where either one or both your parents responded to it by either shutting down or going into an ugly rage - chances are you missed that opportunity to learn about it. Hence as adults some of us find ourselves stuck and repeating certain patterns which does not serve us anymore.
Why learn it though?
For starters, it will improve the quality of your life and also result in your growth as a person. Chances are you have already noticed how the inability to resolve conflicts effectively have affected your relationships, your self-perception, and even your mental health. If you come out of a conflict feeling victimised every time and later compose intelligent come backs, you likely have pondered over how to get over it & not feel that way.
Can we even do something about it?
1. Understanding your triggers:
Each of us have some triggers - some ‘no-go’ - that can make us flip out in a conversation. Before knowing how not to flip-out, we have to recognise what triggers us. To understand why our triggers impact us the way they do, we will have to dig deeper and learn the back story we have created around this trigger.
Suppose your partner disapproves of a certain choice and suggests an alternative. You disagree but somehow rather than having a discussion, you both end up arguing.
Here notice what are you feeling/thinking. What are you telling yourself? Is your partner making a global judgement about you and your character? Or is he/she looking at it from a different perspective? Where are your feelings coming from? Is it possible you are relating it to some incident in your past when you felt like you are ‘not-good-enough’?
2. Recognizing your emotions:
We respond when we are calm, we react when we are threatened. Chances are you know the difference between responding vs reacting. However, if you are unable to discern it at the heat of the moment, ask yourself the following:
“what am I trying to convey right now?”
“how do I feel? Am I hurt?”
“am I curious about what he/she is saying or, have I already made up my mind?”
3. Grounding ourselves:
Once we have figured out whether we are in a reactive or a responsive state, we can correspond better. If you find yourself curious instead of angry, you can possibly have a fruitful discussion. If not, however, you can take a step-back and re-engage when you feel ready.
One way to ground ourselves could be to physically step-out of the conversation and take some time before coming back in a calmer state. You can take this time to recognise your suffering and give yourself some kindness & compassion. It is hard to be fair and non-reactive when you feel threatened in your being. (See related post here)
Another way could be to sit down and write about the situation. Often our feelings are jumbled up in our heads, the process of writing them down can help in providing more clarity about what we feel, why we feel etc. What comes out of this process could also turn out to be some good fodder for a fruitful discussion. Many times, this process also highlights the flaws in our own logic and reasoning.
4. Working towards a solution together:
Often in the heat of a discussion we forget what we were discussing in the first place. Instead, the focus becomes who is right and who is plain wrong. Truth, however, can be quite subjective. Finding middle ground involves genuinely listening to each other and respecting the other’s stance. Looking at the problem ‘as the problem’ and not the person ‘as the problem’ is the key.
One strategy that works wonderfully with young kids while parents act as a referee is - arguing for the other person’s side. This is by far the best ‘standing in the other person’s shoe’ strategy. If you and the other party agrees, you can try exchanging your stances and make a case in favour of it.
If that sounds like a no-go, you can practice it by yourself and genuinely try to take stock of things from the other person’s perspective. However, this process is more effective when both parties do it together.
Conflict is inevitable and will present itself time and again in our lives. While we can use various ways of avoiding it or taking it head-on, all those have their consequences. If we tend to avoid it, we will forever feel like ‘push-overs’ and would be overwhelmed under people’s expectations. If we choose to make it a battle and fight as if our life depended on it, we would alienate many and the quality of the leftover relationships will suffer.
As painful and difficult as it might feel to work on conflict, the growth from it can be quite empowering. You would realise how impactful your choices can be in changing your own and others behaviour. If you are a parent, you will have the opportunity to model these skills for the next generation and in turn making them more resilient in the process.
While you would be able to follow all the aforementioned steps yourself, sometimes the issues could be deep-seated. Working in a safe space in collaboration with a counsellor or therapist can assist your personal growth.