Conflict! What images come to mind when you visualize conflict? Fear? Fighting? Giving in? Shutting down? Distance between you and the other person?
The Chinese symbol for conflict has two meanings: “danger” and “opportunity.” What this means to me is that all conflicts offer us an opportunity to learn and grow — depending on your intent.
What is your usual intent in conflict? To win? To not lose the battle? To not lose yourself? To not be wrong or humiliated?
What do you think would happen if you decided to see conflict as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the other person? What if you chose the intent to learn rather the intent to control or avoid?
If you want to choose this way of dealing with conflict, here are seven choices you can make to facilitate your learning:
1. Decide that learning is more important to you than winning and more important than being right or not wrong.
The decision to learn about yourself and the other person completely changes your energy from adversarial to caring. If the other person also wants to learn, then you are on the same side, supporting yourself and each other in learning and growing.
2. Decide that you are devoted to finding a resolution that works for both of you.
One of the fears many people have of conflict is that they will have to give themselves up and compromise themselves to end the conflict. When you are both devoted to finding a win-win resolution, then both of you end up feeling great about it.
3. Decide to hang in through the challenging parts.
It might not always go smoothly. When you see conflict as an opportunity to learn, then you are willing to risk staying in it through the challenges in order to learn.
4. Decide that both of you have good reasons for your feelings and behavior.
You can learn only when you let go of judgment of yourself and the other person and accept that you each have very good reasons for how you each see the situation. You can learn about these reasons when you are open, not when you are closed and judgmental.
5. Decide that you are willing to speak your truth without blame and judgment.
Decide that you are willing to speak your truth, without blame or judgment, about your feelings and behavior, and you are willing to hear the other person’s truth, without blame or judgment, about his or her feelings and behavior.
6. Decide to be willing to feel pain rather than resort to controlling behavior.
Choose to be willing to feel your core painful feelings of loneliness, heartache, and helplessness over the other person if they are closed, rather than protect against these feelings with anger, compliance, resistance or withdrawal of love.
7. Decide you are willing to lose the other person rather than lose yourself.
Decide that you are willing to walk away from this conflict unresolved, or even walk away from the relationship, rather than lose yourself and your personal integrity. You decide that you will “lovingly disengage,” e.g., walk away from the conflict without anger or blame, rather than get into a fight or give yourself up. Lovingly disengaging is not the same thing as withdrawal. There is anger and blame in withdrawal, but when you lovingly disengage, you are doing this to take care of yourself, not to avoid the conflict or punish the other person.
If the other person is not available to learn with you and to reach a win-win conflict resolution, then in order to not fight, give yourself up, resist or withdraw in anger, you need to be willing to lovingly disengage until both of you are open to learning. Trying to resolve a conflict when one or both of you are devoted to controlling and not being controlled, rather than to caring and learning, will result in damage to the relationship.
If the other person never opens to caring conflict resolution, then you need to decide for yourself how to take loving care of yourself in the face of the unresolved conflict. This means accepting your helplessness over the other person and doing your own inner learning to discover what would be in your highest good.
Are you ready to learn rather than fight? When you are, then you will welcome conflict rather than avoid it.
Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”