One of the most loaded, open to interpretation words I regularly come across in the consulting room and organisations. Yet it is an inevitable part of the day to day. It is a dance we learn from a very early stage of our lives…
For some, it’s a step back. Others chose to take a step aside. And then, there are those who take a step forward. We generally have a preference, a default: fight, flight, freeze.
And because we learn our conflict response form an early age, mostly as a response to our environment back then, as a way to protect us, we can take our responses as a given.
Its like an auto pilot – Input: conflict; output: learnt response from back then.
It is loaded, because it involves power. If we step back to often, our boundaries get crossed, we might lose our space. If we regularly step aside, we collude, nothing changes. If we regularly dive in, we might lose the relationship, hurt the other, or get hurt.
It is such a tricky dance.
And then there is culture: In some places, conflict is a no-no, avoid-at-all-costs, do it behind closed doors please. In other cultures, conflict is out-there, in-the-open or can be a sign of engagement, of interest. And in some parts of the world, conflict is just non-stop, dangerous.
But I think the most interesting thing about conflict is how often we can get entangled in it. And how we can lose perspective, not only of the other, but of ourselves too: it starts to be quite difficult to see what is mine and what is yours. Our boundaries – blurry, our sense of time – skewed. We genuinely think we respond to the here and now, but we might respond to what has happened back then.
Our unconscious process, is, by default…out of awareness.
It takes a safe space to be facilitated in order to invite willingness to engage and explore conflict, and it takes effort to change our responses. I think often we see conflict as a zero sum game, but I believe that the best resolutions are the ones that create a win win proposition.