Conflict-what is it?

Conflict is a pervasive, inevitable and normal part of our lives. There are many resources available to assist in coping in this context, yet many do not appreciate the dynamic of conflict and their role within it.

Each of us has our own personal reaction to conflict.

Definition of Conflict 

There are many different definitions of conflict, but one I always come back to in the context of relationships and family disputes is:

“ Conflict occurs when we perceive that one or more of our values, needs and/or aspects of our identity are being challenged, threatened or undermined by another person”.

(Cinnie Noble “Conflict Management Coaching”)

Conflict habits

In some cases our history and background lead us to equate conflict with confrontation and dispute, with a negative emotional impact, and something to be avoided at all cost. Conflict is then associated with adverse reactions, irreconcilable outcomes, harsh verbal exchanges, loss of control, high emotions, fear and uncertainty. These reactions become an automatic part of our coping mechanisms, unresolved feelings and thoughts, resurfacing when in conflict. This results in patterns, or default habits for dealing with conflict.

Others, view conflict as an opportunity to debate differing opinions, work toward mutually satisfying outcomes, and to strengthen relationships. These have developed effective habits to deal with conflict.

Elements of conflict

What is common to all conflict?

In all conflict situations at least one person senses that something is not quite right about something another person has done, or the situation they find themselves in. This produces negative ongoing emotions arising from the interaction with the other person or the situation. When these negative feelings are unpacked, they can be shown to be associated with differing and inconsistent views relating to perspectives, actions, words or ways of communicating.

Research in this area reveals a cycle of conflict, which integrates the cognitive, emotional, behavioural and relational dimensions. This commences with a precipitating event that triggers negative feelings, resulting in an internal reaction and assumptions regarding the other person’s behavior and the overall situation. At some point a boundary will be crossed, this will be communicated to the other side, moving the negative feelings into the external, with the flow on of reaction and other consequences.

Consider a situation involving a parent, partner or workmate. A comment may jar, insignificant on its own, and overlooked as unimportant. But a similar comment occurs again, resulting in discomfort, and then again. This triggers negative feelings, generally involving what is important to us, what we need from a certain setting, how we think we are seen and how we would like to be valued. We make assumptions about how the others involved are regarding the situation, what their assumptions are and their motivation. The comments continue and our negative feelings escalate, and at some point we will feel that we cannot allow the situation to go on and that a boundary has been crossed. We feel compelled to take action, to say or do something that will communicate our negative feelings to others, taking the conflict into the external and moving it into a dispute with others. Consequences then flow.

Understanding this cycle in any individual situation requires unpacking the precipitating event, the values, needs and/or aspects of identity underlying the trigger point, and impact, the assumptions being made regarding motive and intent of the others.

It is this understanding that fosters the emergence of insight, the generation of options and choices, and the development of skills and effective habits to deal with conflict in a positive and constructive manner.

If you would like to explore this further, contact Creative Family Law Solutions to discuss how we might be able to assist!

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