Conflict can be such a confusing issue to deal with. First we are told that it can be positive. But then again it can be negative. Addressed properly it can be constructive. Improperly it is destructive. Why is that? Maybe, just maybe, it is because we don’t listen well.
The recent election in the USA has shown us some classic examples of what conflict should not be. To a degree this was prevalent in the Canadian election a year ago. Let’s be clear. Obviously as democracies we hold elections because there are many and diverse ideas of what government policy should be about. In simple terms we have ideologies from right wing to left wing. People differ and that is not a bad thing. Political debates and conversations should be a means to discuss policies, share ideas and visions, issues that can improve the lot of citizens and ultimately the world. However, when the dialogue denigrates into personal accusations and insults we accomplish nothing except destructive conflict.
Even after the election, the insults, anger, and gnashing of teeth continues. A short scroll through Facebook proves the point. As someone suggested the other day they miss the day when someone would post instructions on pork chop recipes, or of a dog that was not feeling well, or of. . . . forget it. Might say something I may regret. And don’t even get me going on people that drag religion into the political arena. Never seen such sanctimonious and self-righteous venting as I have in the last year. Perhaps my forefathers were right when they suggested that church and state don’t mix. Their thoughts were that our only duty was to pray for our government. Isn’t that a novel idea.
Sorry. Back to conflict. As has been taught through the ages constructive conflict is important and beneficial. It helps us learn. It helps us develop new thought and ideas. Patrick Lencioni describes the usefulness of conflict in his book “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. In essence he suggests that the basis of any team is trust and when trust is present team members can engage in conflict because it provides the safety to express ideas and thoughts even if they are bound to create significant feedback.
What is it that spirals our relationships into destructive conflict? Why is it that I have such a difficult time in admitting to being wrong? Why is it that I keep defending my position even when subconsciously I know I am wrong? I hate being wrong. The thought of being wrong is a blow to my self-esteem. In essence it makes me unacceptable to myself. That is why I tend to become defensive. I need to save face.
However, when I drill down to the cause of this defensiveness, when I take the third person approach, I gain an understanding of what is happening internally. I find that I have not listened to understand but rather to respond. I have not taken the time to check on what the other really is trying to achieve. I have not explored what I really need out of the conversation. So I argue vigorously to make my point. A point that becomes lost because quite frankly when two parties are in attack mode what really is the point.
I hate being wrong. What is even worse is admitting I am wrong. So I need to look inward. And answer a key question. Do I want to defend my beliefs at all costs or do I want to see the world as clearly as possible? I want to see the world as clearly as possible. And when I am intrigued rather than defensive I am well on my way to gaining a much clearer perspective and having what the Eagles sing about. “That peaceful, easy feeling.” Make it a good one.
“Be selective with your battles. Sometimes peace is better than being right.”