The Delfi Group: Conflict – It’s time for another look
Conflict – an eight-letter word that for most of us, is more than twice as bad most four-letter words that we try never to use. It screams at us from almost every news item, whether newspaper, radio, television or social media. It is the essence of the many books, movies, or miniseries that entertain us. It both captivates and horrifies us. We all experience it in our own personal relationships at home, with friends, and at work. It is not surprising then that the dominant reaction to conflict is avoidance and discomfort – something that is very unpleasant and hard to deal with – something that is only damaging and destructive – something that only ‘bad’ or ‘mean’ people engage in. Most of us want to smooth over our differences and get to a better place as quickly as possible.
Conflict is nothing more than a difference of opinions that involves strong emotions. It will always be around us unless we live a hermit life in a secluded cave. In other words, we need to stop running away, because conflict will always be around the next corner.
But like most things in the world, there is nothing inherently bad or inherently good about conflict. Conflict is simply a tool, like many others that we can access. Consider a hammer: it can be a helpful tool if being used to build something of value, but at the same time, a very destructive tool if used to destroy things or hurt people. Conflict can be used to build things, like a better understanding of a difficult issue – or a better relationship with another person. However, it can be used improperly and result in unintentionally breaking things, especially relationships. It can also be used intentionally to bully, intimidate and control others.
As a species and a society, we have become very competent at using conflict in all the wrong ways – and the signs are everywhere. Since 1900 there have been more loss and damages to human life from wars, genocide and terrorism than all the preceding years combined in our recorded history. Approximately half of our society’s marriages end in divorce. Conservative estimates indicate that almost 40 per cent of North American leadership time is spent dealing with workplace conflicts rather than running a productive business, resulting in a cost of billions of dollars to our economy.
Avoidance is not the answer. When we do not address the issues that are causing the conflict, these issues become infectious in our relationship and spread to other relationships and other areas of our lives. Unresolved conflicts represent one of the major causes of stress – the damaging condition that shortens our lives. For our own personal well-being, and that of our species, it is imperative that we all try to understand and become more competent at using conflict for the right reasons.
Plenty of research and writing exists on this topic – and over the next few weeks I am going to rely on some of these writings to help all of us take another look at this critical topic. We start with some insights from Dr. Gary Glass, formerly of Duke University in the United States. He will help us to understand the four basic elements of any conflict – the facts and situations; the points of view or frames of reference; the opinions and beliefs of the participants; and the emotions. Our next Delfi column will explore these in greater detail and show how a deeper understanding of all four elements will make it easier to find the right path to more productive uses of this important tool called conflict.
Larry Schruder is president and co-owner of The Delfi Group, an Ontario-approved Vendor of Record. He can be reached at Larry.Schruder@thedelfigroup.com.