How to Avoid Everyday Conflicts?
Why Conflicts Arise
As social animals, we derive our joys, pleasures, and experiences through interactions with other people. Too frequently, we begin conversing with someone and what was intended to be an amiable conversation quickly turns into an argument. We try hard to convince someone that their opinion on a particular issue is shaky. We introduce logic, rationale, and relevant analogies to persuade, but our conversation partner remains resolute, refusing to appreciate our point of view. “How can you say that capitalism motivates people to try harder when all it does it favor the rich and mighty?” The result is that animosity develops between the two and may escalate to hatred and bitterness.
Why does this happen? In short, the answer is because of our deeply entrenched beliefs and values which have firmly implanted themselves in our psyche and when we encounter anything that challenges these beliefs and values, we rebel. Our opinions are often shaped by emotions, past experiences, cognitive biases, and any group(s) we identity with rather than facts or rationale. Psychological research suggests that once we become comfortable with our biases, we refuse to appreciate any perspective which challenges them.
Why Do We Refuse To Accept Facts
Our minds are conditioned to hold onto pre-existing beliefs and convictions, a condition which psychologists call “the illusion of validity.” According to Dr. Daniel Kahneman, “for some of our most important beliefs we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold these beliefs.” The problem lies in that we adopt our beliefs as undisputable truths. Because of this illusion, we construct a story in our mind which we believe to be true but is not necessarily so. People also succumb to the illusion of validity if the group to which we belong, or a group with which we identify ourselves, hold some beliefs regardless of how valid or absurd they may be. A certain amount of plain old inertia also comes into play. We prefer to deny or deprecate any information that is new or uncomfortable rather than alter our views.
Finding a Solution
How do we find a solution to this emotional tug of war? There is no easy answer to this question. But before proffering a possible solution, I would like to caution that we should never ever consider the other person as adamant, irrational, impractical, or whatever negative attributes may come to our mind. Character assassination only makes matters worse. No approach could be more wrong. We need to realize that in all likelihood, the other person also harbors similar feelings towards us and if there is no mutual respect, the chances of resolving matters simply cease to exist. To clarify, for purposes of this article, we are talking about balanced, reasonable people and not bigots or partisans who may internally realize the absurdity in their beliefs but refuse to acknowledge or admit them since they have a vested interest in supporting a cause or group.
Fortunately for us, research also provides a solution but it requires us to be flexible in our thinking and receptive to contrary opinions, a feat easier preached than embraced.
Rebuilding Burnt Bridges
Ideally, in the first place, bridges should not be burnt. Again, this is easier said than done. By the time we realize that we have burnt bridges, it is usually too late and extremely difficult to rebuild them unless both parties realize their folly and setting aside their egos, get down to the task in earnest.
A first step would be to learn about the early years of the person with whom we desire to resolve conflicts, the time in which their personalities were being formed. The conversation could be around the biggest personal challenge they’ve faced, how they overcame those challenges, and what influence external forces had on them. If we listen carefully without being judgmental, we may get insights into why they behave as they do, making it easier for us to empathize with them.
The second step would be to focus on similarities rather than differences between the two. By focusing on similarities, we begin to relate with people in a positive, healthy way.
The third step is to ask open ended questions. By showing a genuine interest in the other person, and trying to understand the reasons influencing their perspectives, we significantly increase our chances of rebuilding the bridge.
Important to keep in mind that at no time during the process should either person adopt an argumentative style nor show any distrust, contempt, or mockery of the other person’s views either verbally or through body language or facial expressions. Nothing will kill the possibilities of finding a solution faster than disdain for the other person. If despair sets in because the other person just does not agree, the conversation should be adjourned and resumed again when the mind may be less perturbed.
The biggest benefit to having such conversations is that our own thinking may evolve in unexpected ways. We are very likely to gain fresh perspectives which could be very beneficial in future discussions with this person and every other person…and prevent the burning of bridges in the first place.
Every conflict resolution process has its limitations. For the process discussed here, some limitations include:
1. This process is only suitable to resolve conflicts between two people and not among a group of people. We tend to think and behave differently in a group setting and the dynamics are very different than when negotiating with a single person;
2. For any strategy to succeed, including this one, it is imperative that both partners have an open mind and empathize with the other. If one is affable but the other remains hostile, it does not work and matters become worse;
3. The process of rebuilding bridges is hard and time consuming. If we believe conflicts can be resolved quickly, we are setting up ourselves for failure. May be wiser to not start the process at all;
4. No strategy or process is guaranteed or fool-proof, including this one. We have to take our cues from the situation and modify our approach as we make progress. This, of course, requires some experience and expertise;
5. One cannot overemphasize the desire to resolve. Too often we believe we have the desire to resolve but in reality we only want to assert, and reassert our viewpoint. With such a mindset if you believe you can resolve…good luck!
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