Conflict is something to avoid. Isn’t it? For most of us, since we were little conflict was something that must be resolved as quickly as possible. Or even better, avoided altogether. In our no-shades-of-gray world, conflict was placed squarely in the “bad” column. But what if conflict isn’t bad at all? What if it’s really a naturally occurring tool to spur us to making positive changes in the world around us?
What Is Conflict?
Sometimes, we toss words and concepts around without clear definitions. Sometimes, even the way we do define things gets in the way. In regards to conflict, Nate Regier has a short and intriguing definition:
“Conflict is energy.”
If you can accept that definition, then it’s easy to see that the problem isn’t the conflict. It’s the energy. Or more specifically the kind of energy that is of concern. In his book “Conflict Without Casualties,” he goes on to examine that energy.
Struggle Against or With?
There’s a huge difference in working, or struggling, to defeat something or someone, and struggling to achieve a desirable outcome. When the struggle or conflict is framed as an opportunity to learn and create an acceptable result, the energy takes on a much more positive feel. Metaphorically, it’s like choosing to paddle a canoe against a churning current or choosing to work with the current, and let it help you to your destination. It’s not that the current is bad or good, it’s simply how you view it and use it.
Drama or Compassion?
Often, the conflict we experience is accompanied by drama. While either embracing or pushing away the drama will likely be unproductive, there’s another option. When confronted with conflict and drama, showing compassion and understanding is an effective alternative. Applying the wisdom of Stephen R. Covey,
“seek first to understand, then to be understood,”
is exactly what’s required.
“Conflict Without Casualties” is a thought-provoking look at conflict and how to effectively respond with what Regier calls “compassionate accountability.” I’d highly recommend it. It’s written from a business perspective, but the concepts presented are equally applicable in all relationships.