Communication without conflict is peaceful, harmonious and pleasant. Imagine your family, fellow employees, and negotiations between nations void of conflict. Wouldn’t we be less stressed, more relaxed, with far fewer lives lost in wars? But communication without conflict can also be boring, unimaginative and repetitive. Imagine how dull conversations over dinner and in team meetings would be, how the arts and sciences would showcase history’s breakthroughs, or how sports and international relations would probably disappear out of lack of interest or need. Communication with conflict creates friction, that when managed well, sparks ideas, innovation, trust, learning and pushes human thought and potential to new heights. So as much as we say we don’t like conflict we wouldn’t want to live without it. Conflict can transform a family, a team at work or the solutions that impact the world. For that to happen, any kind of communication that turns down the road of conflict, at least one side must have three commitments:
The commitment to understand – Deep within our DNA humans desire to connect with another. A positive outcome of that connection is to feel understood. Our cellphones have made us more connected, but often on a superficial level, resulting in more stress and anxiousness. The internet has actually made us feel less understood. With this as a backdrop, it is extremely important we commit to understand. Image Dave at your work who keeps denying taking on projects that result in more work for you. It would be easy to get upset and confront Dave, complain to his boss or talk behind his back. Before forming an opinion get the whole story from Dave. Tell him you’ve noticed he’s been cutting back on taking on projects, and would he mind sharing why. If you approach Dave in a neutral, calm and concerned manner by seeking to understand his situation, he is more apt to listen to your complaint or accept your request knowing that you understand him, than if you just accuse him of being lazy. Most marriages also suffer when partners stop trying to understand one another and instead fall into a rut of assumptions. “Oh, that’s just the way Judy is.”
The commitment to speak only for oneself – When confronting someone we often build a case by aligning our complaint to another person or group. “I not only feel you consistently treat people rudely, but so does the entire team.” When we speak for other people, we have to represent them as well, which is impossible. It also makes the person you are confronting feel being ganged up on. Conflict can destroy emotional intelligence as stress hormones take our rational brain offline, leaving only a “fight or flight” response. When you speak only for yourself you ease that tendency. Also, avoid saying things that assume how the other person felt. “You know it bothered me to do that, and yet you did it anyway”. Instead speak for yourself: “When you did this, I felt upset.”
The commitment to make a request – After understanding has been achieved, and everyone is speaking for themselves it’s important to make a request. An accepted request resolves the conflict. Can you recall an argument and wondered to yourself “and where is this going?”
“Dave, I now understand why you aren’t taking on more projects. Your wife is ill and you have to take care of her and your three kids. If this should happen again, my request is to let me know ahead of time, so I can rearrange my work priorities to take on some of your projects.“
Communication that turns into conflict can be destructive if not managed well. However, marriages, team, companies and nations can grow and prosper if conflict is seen as an opportunity to learn, connect, grow, build trust, discover and transform. Successful conflict is all about understanding, speaking for oneself and making requests.