Guest Writer: Eric Betts, assistant director, Curtis Coleman Center for Religious Studies and Ethics at Athens State University
Why is it important to resolve conflict? There are absolutely no upsides to ignoring conflict and allowing it to go unaddressed. It is an illusion to believe that the issues will work themselves out eventually. When there is conflict, even the innocent party is sullied in some way. Even though one may feel that he or she is innocent and not the real source of the conflict, it is best to work it out with the one who feels that they have been wronged. Many avoid addressing conflict because it is so unpleasant, emotionally draining, and difficult by its very nature. What is often overlooked is that being shy about the tension that exists, only creates greater tension and explosive situations down the road.
It is said that “full-blown battles use up resources — time, energy, good reputation, motivation. By negotiating, you avoid wasting these resources, and you may actually make new allies and find new resources!”
There are five ways that parties often approach conflict, and only certain ones will solve the issues:
(1) Denial and avoidance appear to be the most peaceable way and the path of least resistance, but that approach will lose every time.
(2) Competing and fighting is another attractive way. This attitude says, “May the smartest, strongest, and the most resourceful win.” The compete and fight approach, while attractive, causes everyone lose to a degree, some more than others.
(3) The smoothing over the problem approach only delays inevitable hostility and negative emotions and actions.
(4) Compromise and negotiation will create a win for both sides, yet they also must be willing to give up or loose in some area in the agreement.
(5) Collaboration takes longer, but eventually is a win/win because it pulls back the skin of the onion and gets to the meat of where the real interests lie. The Collaboration approach continues the dialogue until the compatible interests are discovered, the relationship grows, and both are committed to preserving the interests of both.
Other important aspects of conflict resolution involve being soft on the person and hard on the problems. Attack the problem and not the person. The object is to preserve and build relationships while tackling the problem. One must have the wisdom to separate the problem from the person who one feels is causing the problem. In this approach, the parties work together to eliminate the problems that are hurting the relationship.
How soon should one seek to resolve conflict? As soon as the first signs appear, begin to deal with them. Delay is not an option. There are three main issues that create conflict: (1) Criticizing someone “behind their back.” (This is perhaps at the top of the list.) It is vitally important to go directly to the person that you want to change their behavior. (2) Not being an active listener who makes sure he or she understands exactly what is being stated. This creates the frustrating “I thought you said…No, I didn’t…Yes, you did” situations. (3) Cutting off communication with those with whom you disagree or are seemingly unfriendly. This only adds to the tension and hostility.
The best ways to begin the process is to be respectful, honest, separate the emotions, and don’t assume (things are not always what they appear). If you can preserve the relationship and eliminate the issues, you will have gained a great victory. If the issues remain, keep the communication going and don’t give up. May the wisest and the strongest person take the first step in resolving the conflict.
By: Guest Writer: Eric Betts, assistant director, Curtis Coleman Center for Religious Studies and Ethics at Athens State University