Conflict can be seen as a gift of energy, in which neither side loses and a new dance is created – – – Thomas Crum
When we are in a conflict, we all experience great stress and anxiety. We often feel “stuck,” unable to work through the conflict and resolve it. What seems to be the problem is often just a mask for a deeper issue. For example, many conflicts seem to arise around money, but the money may only be the surface, while the actual conflict is about some other deep emotional upset.
In my practice, I have mediated a few cases involving disputes between siblings over the care of an elderly parent, or the estate of a recently deceased parent. In reality, the conflict may be a resurgence of old childhood rivalries, or about one child feeling that the parent preferred his/her sibling. These disputes often end up in fights over material things but those are just the cover.
In some families going through a divorce spouses will use the money or even the children to get revenge over issues of control or feelings of hurt. Sadly, the reality is that getting the money or the children will not erase these hurts.
The Positive Side of Conflict
Conflict stimulates brainstorming and finding solutions at times when you think there is no solution.
It creates an opportunity to challenge yourself, learn about yourself, and in doing so, to grow.
Successfully managing a conflict together can bring the parties a sense of success and well being, as they find a solution to a long-term, ongoing dispute which has been taking the best out of all of them.
So if you are in a conflict, try to take a deep breath and step back. By doing this, you may realize that the conflict could be an opportunity to try and repair some of the pain of the past. And if the other parties are not willing to do this, don’t give up on yourself. Take that deep breath and step back. This will give you a little perspective, and surprisingly, by changing your own perspective, you may influence how others will react.
Can you remember a situation where you were in conflict with someone and were able to work out a solution?
Comments from Social Media
You are absolutely correct. I always think of conflict as an opportunity, a chance to drill down and find out what is really going on. Often, the only way to work through the conflict is to ignore the surface and find out what is driving the dispute. The work to be done is in determining the real interests of each party and then, seeking a resolution based on those interests. I think that is how you “unstick” the parties.
Thanks for writing about this topic, Jennifer, As you point out, the “content” of a conflict is almost always a cover for what’s really going on. It is only when we are able to manage our own anxieties about the struggle, discuss our disagreements respectfully and productively that we are able to move deeper into the core issues and achieve actual solutions, healing, and growth.
I agree with Jim. Conflict should be viewed as an opportunity for change.
I usually ask feuding parents if they would like to learn and grow from the conflict or remain in it (No brainer answer) and we work from that point.
There’s theory and there is reality. In theory, I completely agree with Jennifer, Jim and Melissa. In reality, think about your own conflicts and whether you can bring this same attitude to bear. Damn difficult.
I say this only to remind us all to acknowledge how difficult it is–amidst the pain, stress, uncertainty and confusion of conflict–to find the opportunity. Doing so is so important, mustering the will and energy to do so, always a challenge.
I like the opening phrase, “Conflict can be seen as a gift of energy,” if only because energy theories of intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics in psychology have been out of vogue for a long time and I have a soft spot for them. The psychoanalytic school dominated the early 20th century, and it had energy fixation as a basis for pathology, with the treatment to free up energy for normal psychological functions as its main goal. The concept here might be more metaphorical than the way Freud saw it, but I still think it’s important and defends the premise of constructive conflict really well.
Michael: I agree that finding a path from the conflict to resolution is very difficult. I have found with some couples, one or both uses the conflict to feed some personal need. In a relationship where one person dominates, the interest of the dominant party often is to control the other. To move from conflict to resolution, you need to offer an outcome that better serves the interests of both parties. That is often easier said than done.
Jim, Helping parties find that common focus is so important. We can’t, of course, make that happen; it’s their choice to shift their perspective. Yet, if we believe this is possible, and if we believe that by finding a those common interests, we have already taken a huge step in support of the parties finding these interests. The trick/challenge is to avoid giving them an answer which is our own, and instead asking questions that encourage them to reconsider their narrow and self-serving narrative. And, a discussion of the ways in which we nurture the parties to let go of the seeming security of their position for the fruitful, but uncertain notion of a common interest, would be truly fascinating.
As mediator, I never offer an option or solution to the parties as bad as their conflict may be.
My goal is to help them think of options that may be outside of the box to help them see a possible different angle which would help them find a solution acceptable to both. Not easy but a challenging and interesting exercise.
Jennifer, well said; that’s what makes our work so profoundly important, rewarding and challenging.
jennifer safian. divorce and family mediator divorce and family mediation upper east side of manhattan (nyc) new york, ny (212) 472-8626 firstname.lastname@example.org connect on