Conflict, Conflict Everywhere


August 11, 2020 / Laura Brown

There is conflict all around us. Have you noticed? This question is being asked with a chuckle as I type because even if you do live under a rock, you’re feeling it. And if you’re like me, you’re exhausted.

I’m exhausted because I feel powerless. Powerless to change the tone around me, powerless to resolve the issues that divide us, powerless to help those that are hurting the most. Anyone with me?

Today that changes. I’m resolved to stop saying “I’m powerless” and start saying “I can do something.” Every one of us can participate differently in the world around us and find a way to make conflict productive. Where there is conflict, we can engage well. Yes, you read that right: We can disagree well. This applies in our homes, our jobs, our communities and, dare I say it, on that thing we call “social media.” How?

1. Acknowledge the specific conflict in the (virtual) room. Conflict is a clash, a disagreement, a meeting of two different minds. It exists with us, but it does not define us. By pretending the conflict does not exist, we cannot solve anything, but we can start to see one another as the enemy. Take time to identify conflict and, in the act of identification, give it the appropriate name. It is not “Joe and Susie’s Fight”. It is “the debate between green or purple paint.”

2. Enter conflict with the intent to listen and understand, not to be heard. Let’s throw away our desire to be “the winner”, or powerhouse, in the conversation. Allow humility to be your guide in this journey. Consider that you may have something to learn – we all do! – and it is worth your time to listen today. The magic in this moment? When you start listening, others follow the lead. And guess what? Those that listen are heard. If you can be the force in the conversation balancing listening and hearing, progress can be made.

3. Recognize that many conflicts are in fact tension to manage, not a solvable problem. Are you following me? So often we enter conflict with the mindset that there is a perfect answer, and we will fight for ours, but how often is that actually true? Our reality is that many ideas have merit and many problems do not have a clean and tidy solution. Prepare yourself that you are not looking for a final answer. You’re trying to find the best balance, a way to constructively reduce tension and be better. What is the corollary to this suggestion, you ask? Ah… it is the reality that YOU do not have the answer. You have a contribution. As do others. And, we’re back to listening…

4. Conflict deserves a safe, respectful atmosphere to take place. Make yourself the host of such a place. We all have an opportunity to provide a place where debate, discussion, problem solving, conflict, can take place. Ask yourself: am I allowing people the chance to finish a sentence? Are we all recognizing our biases actively? Are we applying grace where mistakes and misunderstanding occur? Are we using facts over emotions? These are important questions, creating a place where you can take back power in a conflicted world. Choose to actively cultivate an environment – at home, at work, even on your Facebook page (yes, I said it) – where conflict is given a chance to be constructive, not combative. And hold those around you accountable for aspiring to the same ideal.

5. Know when enough is enough. There is a time to remove yourself from a particular conflict situation – and maybe help others out as well. Not because you have found a permanent solution or even temporarily resolved tension. It may simply be a timeout with an agreement to come back in a better state of mind or with new rules for engagement. Maybe everyone needs a chance to go consider where they’ve become entrenched or where they need to read up and expand their understanding. Maybe you’re just tired. Knowing when to stop is just as important as knowing how to start. Only you know this limit and sometimes you need to help others find theirs.

There are those that will disagree with some of these statements. I’m okay with that and ready to hear what they have to say. And there is certainly more to be said, and for us all to learn, about how to disagree well. This is only a start. And a conversation I hope to continue, because of one thing I am certain: conflict is not going to end. Nor should it. If we cannot disagree, push each other, and ask questions, we cannot grow. And I love that we live in a world where we can all agree on one truth: there is more work to be done. And much good has been done that we can celebrate.

Join us on this journey to disagree well. And please, let us know how you see opportunity to disagree better – together.