Many people go out of their way to avoid conflict of any sort because they have had such bad experiences in the past. You might have found yourself in a shouting match in the past every time you said what you really thought to your boss, your parents or your spouse. For people who don’t know how to handle conflicts well, engaging in it can be exhausting. Anger escalates between you and the other person, and even if you finally come to a solution, you end up getting worn out, embarrassed by how you behaved, or you remain angry and resentful with the other person.
Avoiding conflict isn’t any healthier, however, because conflicts are part of life. You’re just not going to agree with everybody about everything all the time, and if you did you would be bored. In addition, when you swallow your thoughts, feelings and opinions in order to avoid conflicts, you end up stewing in the frustration and resentment of being unable to meet your needs in any kind of satisfying way.
This makes you miserable and full of stress, and eventually the anger will explode, often causing a major conflict with someone who had nothing to do with what you are upset about. For example, many parents come home from a hard day at work and all the anger they’ve stored up against their bosses all day comes out at their children for leaving his toys out or not doing her homework. This just makes everybody feel bad, especially the person who began the unnecessary conflict, and perpetuates a cycle of unhealthy behavior.
Just as bad is being able to freely voice your opinions and advice, but having constant conflict and friction with the people around you. Coercive communication full of demands or criticism drives others away, and can leave you feeling isolated and frustrated that you don’t seem to be achieving your goals anyways, or able to connect with people in the way you want to. Effective conflict resolution is a balance, a constant dance between honest assertion of your needs and receptive listening to the other person’s experience.
The good news is that there is another way to deal with conflict besides getting into another long or non-productive argument. Conflict resolution tools and techniques can help you handle conflicts in a mature, calm manner that will leave you feeling great about yourself and about the other person. If the thought of engaging in conflict scares you, learning new conflict resolution tools can help put your mind at ease so that you can move confidently through your life rather than continually modifying your behavior in order to avoid conflicts.
Many conflict resolution problems come from avoiding one powerful question: what do you really want? During a conflict, you might think you know what you want, but you need to look a little bit more deeply to be able to really bring conflict resolution within reach. For example- you want to be given leadership over a project at work and your boss assigns the project to someone else on your team. You might think that what you have to have to solve your problem is the role in the project that was already given to someone else. However, that is only your surface want. Underneath that, you may be angry or frustrated because you don’t think your boss trusts you or because you feel undervalued at your company in general. These feelings tell you that what you really want is to be visible, respected, appreciated or trusted.
Because we have learned to avoid conflict as a way to keep the peace, it can be hard to access your real feelings and figure out what you want. Understanding yourself is the key to conflict resolution because if you attempt to resolve the conflict by acting to get only your surface wants, you can actually sabotage your chances of getting what you really want in conflict resolution. For example, if what you want is to feel loved by your husband but you scream at him about how rarely he helps with the dishes, you create barriers to the intimacy that you seek. Your surface wants and needs are important as well, but if you understand what is really motivating you, you are more likely to find a peaceful conflict resolution.