Conflict Can Be Positive

What is conflict?

When you think of the word “conflict,” do you generally picture shouting matches, anger, icy stares, or nerve-shattering stressful confrontations? Some formal definitions of the word “conflict” are:

  1. Competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests or persons).
  2. Mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands.
  3. Hostile encounter: fight, battle, war.
  4. The pursuit of incompatible goals, such that gains to one side come about at the expense of the other.

By these definitions, conflict is a bad situation. Necessarily, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose — the classic win/lose scenario.


Conflict can be positive!

This is hard to believe. We would rather run from conflict, but if we take courage, and adopt the notion that what does not kill us will make us stronger, and stand up and question conflict, it can be a huge learning curve.

I believe that it is always worth hearing what other people think! Just because I am not hearing it, does not mean that they are not thinking it.

This does not mean that I have to take it onboard, but if it stops me long enough to address my perceptions or prejudices, then it is worthwhile.

  1. Conflict helps people find common ground. Although it is easy to get stuck arguing about who did what, to whom and why, identifying and confronting these issues often focuses people on alternative and different ways to resolve a common problem and find a common, acceptable solution.
  2. Conflict teaches people about their negotiation styles and what works and what doesn’t.  Understanding your negotiation style often requires an assessment of your conflict resolution style.
  3. Conflicts are an opportunity to learn about your spouse, partner, friend, family member, neighbour, co-worker or stranger. Conflicts arising from differing personalities can help you figure out how to problem solve and maybe even to work well together in other arenas.
  4. Conflict creates an opportunity to be creative and can stretch you to find solutions that are outside of your comfort level. This is the hardest thing, the idea that other’s ideas, solutions, or practices may be acceptable, at the minimum, and exceed our ability or creativity at the outside of it, can be a difficult pill to swallow. Embracing other ideas allows us the opportunity to add our own, and grow the overall understanding. You cannot make progress with a nay sayer!
  5. Healthy conflicts often end with a win-win solution. The ultimate of principled negotiation.
  6. Conflict is an opportunity to open up communication on a difficult subject. Conflict and confrontation are natural and healthy components of any relationship.
  7. Timing the Tactful confrontation about conflict strengthens relationships. Confronting conflict increases the openness and honesty and often the closeness in a relationship.  Peace achieved through conflict avoidance is short lived and often dishonest.
  8. Managing conflict by dealing with it is more efficient than letting conflicts fester.  Getting right to the disputed issue at hand resolves issues quicker and emotional time dwelling on things is shortened.
  9. Managing conflicts appropriately helps build independence.  A key management tool is, understanding where “neutral” ground is, physically.  People often pick the exactly wrong place to negotiate and in the wrong place, very little conflict resolution is likely.  Neutral facilitators also fit into this. Mediators, who have no vested interest in the outcome of a conflict, can be considered ‘neutral ground’.
  10. Conflicts encourage people to grow. Conflicts are challenging and can lead to a new outlook on personal practices and processes.

It is hard not to grow personally, spiritually, emotionally or mentally when dealing with conflict resolution.

Adapted from an article By Brigid A. Duffield