Hardly constructive, these exchanges resemble debates or ping-pong games and serve only to inflame emotions and entrench the participants. How do normally intelligent and articulate people fall into such unproductive patterns? And what can be done about it? The answers to both questions lie in the roles we instinctively and sometimes unconsciously adopt when confronted by conflict.
Understanding the cost of conflict is a major factor in persuading contesting parties to attempt conflict resolution and turn their conflict into collaboration. Stewart Levine in his excellent book “Getting to Resolution – Turning Conflict into Resolution” identifies four costs of conflict: direct costs, productivity costs, continuity costs, and emotional costs.
Conflict in a relationship is both normal and painful. In working with couples I have found that it’s the successful resolution of the conflict that strengthens the couple’s bond and brings them closer together. The resolution comes only by walking through the conflict and not around it.
For the majority of the population, getting into conflict is either frightening or frustrating — or both. And, like many things that scare us, we try to avoid it in the future. Here’s the simple truth: if you want the problem or conflict to go away, you have to work to find a solution. That means facing your fears, your apprehensions, and the other person and working through the conflict.
Most people don’t want to cause upset by confronting people. But putting up with bad treatment actually harms relationships. Bottling things up causes pressure and leaves you open to the risk of exploding. Confrontation may not be pleasant but it is sometimes necessary. It’s time to start standing up for yourself.
One of the most difficult yet important aspects of negotiations is to learn to detect inconsistencies or lies in other people’s accounts of the conflict. It’s difficult because most of us come from a place of relatively good will toward others, even in a competitive negotiation session… But not all of us.