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3 Lessons on Overcoming Conflicts

Photo by Shannon
Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. ~Albert Einstein

Conflict has always been something that my physical body reacts to viscerally, gnawing at my stomach, growing up into my heart and eventually taking up residence in my brain, sitting heavy until the issue can be resolved and room can be made for other thoughts and lighter feelings.

I am a dweller, someone who will spend hours hashing out an issue, taking everything out from underneath the rug in order to inspect it, discuss it and let it dissipate — unless I feel that I am unshakably right and the other party is wrong.

When it comes to conflict, I am hopelessly preoccupied. It can be exhausting — especially when paired with the “right fighter” instinct.

Last summer, after a series of misunderstandings and words left unsaid, I stopped talking to my grandparents. I felt completely “wronged” by things they had said to me and about me and decided I would wait for them to apologize.

Unfortunately — as is the case with the majority of conflicts that arise — they saw things very differently and felt that it was my responsibility to extend the olive branch. This only infuriated me more.

So in a kind of silent stand off way, we didn’t speak for months and any mention of it from my well-meaning mother made me blow up in a misdirected fit of rage. But the anger I carried with me and made reference to often was draining and tainted every positive experience I was able to have during that time.

There needed to be an end to it, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to move on if things didn’t play out exactly the way I thought they should.

Eventually my mother had to intervene, giving me a not-so-subtle push to reach out, share my grievances and move past the upset. The conversation at that point wasn’t an easy one — the original issues had grown with the lack of communication and time that had passed.

But eventually, with a mutual agreement that the issues of the past would be kept there, we moved forward with a deeper understanding of where we were all coming from.

Once the dust had settled and I was able to reflect on the situation without my anger guiding me, I had an “aha” moment — every conflict I had been involved in before that point and after that point could be curtailed if both parties were able to reflect on the past and present of the other party.

We might believe that someone is intentionally acting out of complete disregard for us and our feelings, but conflict is really just a mirror image of the state of both parties lives and minds. Therefore, the way that someone reacts in a situation is a culmination of many factors, most of which have little or nothing to do with the other person.

Although she didn’t voice this at the time our conflict was brewing, my grandma was struggling with a deep feeling of loneliness and sadness brought on by the prospect of aging. She thought daily about what she would do if my grandpa passed before her and she was questioning who would be there to support her if that were to happen.

While my family would stand by her and help her through anything, she wasn’t able to see that at the time. So when I decided to cut off communication, this only cemented what she had been feeling and deepened the conflict.

At that time in my life, I was struggling to find reliable work that reflected my abilities, so when a snide comment was made about when I would be getting a “traditional” job, my reaction didn’t necessarily match the intention or magnitude of the comment itself.

My grandparents didn’t know exactly what I had been dealing with when it came to finding work, so they couldn’t have known why what was said had me so upset.

A year later, the conflict with my grandparents is a thing of the past. But when conflict arose with a friend recently, these are the lessons I pulled from.

Lesson #1 – Reflect on the “why” not “what”

If we look strictly at what happened, chances are we’ll try to attach meaning to the situation that isn’t actually there.

Instead, try to look behind the curtain — reflect on why the other person said or did what they said, the state of mind they were operating in at the time and past or present circumstances that are pushing them to act or react in a certain way.

If we are able to come from a place of understanding, we are far more likely to stop the situation from escalating and reaching a point of no return. Many times this will create a platform of mutual understanding, one where the other person can reflect on why we reacted the way we did as well.

Lesson #2 – Choose peace over being right

Most of the time when I’m “right fighting,” it’s not because offering a concession would hurt who I am or what I stand for, but because my ego is looking for a boost. I want to be right just for the validation.

But in truth, if the validation means that someone else is defeated and the unrest is still there, it’s really not worth it.

This doesn’t mean letting the other person “win,” it’s about deciding that there doesn’t have to be a concrete conclusion to every problem. It’s deciding that the end can simply be recognizing that two people from different backgrounds don’t have to see something the exact same way, and both are valid in their thoughts and feelings.

Peace is long lasting and has far-reaching effects — much more so than being right.

Lesson #3 – Make sure your reaction is in line with the size of the situation.

It’s incredibly easy to pull from other situations, thoughts and feelings when deciding how to react to something that was done or said that we found offensive. If, for instance, we were constantly ridiculed as a child about our weight, we might react strongly when someone says something about what we choose to eat as an adult.

Everyone’s experience is unique, and not everyone knows what our buttons are — it’s up to us to be aware of the place we are reacting from and adjust our thoughts, feelings and actions accordingly.

On the same note, it’s important to take note of the intention behind what was said or done. Often times people are accidentally insensitive and don’t deserve a severe backlash for hurt they had absolutely no intention of causing.

~~

I still struggle to function when conflict arises, but I now feel more equipped to reflect on the reality of the situation and reach a point of understanding with the other person and myself. And that noticeable, measurable growth makes every situation easier and easier to handle.

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About the author

Kayla Albert is freelance writer intent on living life deliberately. You can follow her at Confessions of a Perfectionist. If there's a writing project you'd like for her to tackle, visit her website at kaylaalbert.com

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9 thoughts on 3 Lessons on Overcoming Conflicts

  1. Amen to putting peace before being right. Being right is generally relative anyway.

    I have also found that in almost all arguments, each party has something to apologize for. It does bother me when I apologize and the other party doesn’t because they don’t think need to, but I try to drop that and extend forgiveness anyway, because I know I am healthier when I admit a wrong, let go, and move on. This technique has worked especially well for my partner and me in our marriage.

  2. Conflict can be tricky, especially with family. However, you can avoid conflict by realizing that not everyone, including your family, will give you their blessing. I used to get upset about snide comments from family members; I don’t anymore. In fact, I had a chance to ‘practice what I preach’ this weekend. Here’s what happened.

    My sister agreed to look at a condo with our uncle, even though she was tired and didn’t want to go. She would benefit from getting over feeling guilty, but that’s for another blog post.

    Anyway…

    Our uncle kept talking about his great nephew (our cousin’s son). He kept going on about how *Alex* is so smart and things like that. Then our uncle went on and on about our cousin. How she works in the medical field, blah, blah, blah. My sister was fuming when she got home. Why? Because her son, my nephew, is super smart. I’m not just saying that. He has the test scores and guidance counselors and teachers recommendations to prove it. But then again, he doesn’t HAVE TO prove anything to anyone.

    My sister got upset because she knows I worked my butt off in college and have three degrees, plus a graphic design certification. Plus, she has a medical assisting certification.

    I let my sister vent and when she was finished, I said the following to her. “I don’t need our uncle to validate me. Your son and daughter (my niece and nephew) do not need their great uncle to validate them. They, like me, are already validated, and you are too.”

    Life is too short to get into battles with family and friends. In fact, it could be a sign that you’re spending too much time with these people. Why would you want to limit the time spent with them? If they don’t give you their favor, and always drain you, why would you want to be around them? And they probably have issues they need to work out. You can’t do the work for them. You can be kind and respectful, but you shouldn’t be controlled and manipulated.

    As Joel Osteen would say, “Surround yourself with people who lift you up, instead of those who bring you down.”

    Believe me; I’ve had my share of ups and downs with certain family members. But I value you my life too much to be around people who don’t support or appreciate me. It’s not worth it.

  3. I’m in the middle of feeling angry with two people right now, and I can’t seem to get past it. I know that I should. But I suppose it is because it’s feelings of hurt that is really causing the anger. And when I am hurt, I withdraw and cut the other person out of my life. I guess I find it too painful to approach them and talk about it so I retreat instead. Not the healthiest way to deal with it. Thanks for this article. Yes, often our need to be right feeds the anger and discontent. I’ve learnt that simply because I feel that someone should apologize for having done something wrong to me, doesn’t mean they will. This often makes us more angry and we then start feeling even more justified in our anger. But it is quite pointless in the end. You can’t make someone say they’re sorry, and hanging on to the hurt and anger isn’t affecting them, it is only affecting us.

  4. cj

    Agreed Kayla! Conflict is simply too much stress. Love both your writing and the article.

    On the other hand, if someone is attacking or is keen on keeping the conflict going, I have no qualms at all letting them go. If we focus too much on the “why” we can begin making excuses for poor behavior too rather than addressing it.

  5. Annie

    Inner peace is my most valued quality. Being right at the expense of my sense of peace is just not worth it to me, although sometimes I forget this in the heat of the moment. I do believe that there is an art in balancing standing up for yourself and letting go of a futile disagreement, but at the end of the day I would much rather feel that I contributed to peace rather than escalated an argument. Thank you for the inspiration!

  6. Great Post, my favorite is “Lesson #3 – Make sure your reaction is in line with the size of the situation.” So many times we react emotionally when a more level head always prevails. Stop the out of control spiral with a calm and logical approach to your problems and things will always work out better. :)

  7. I really appreciated the story you told, particularly the part where you explained how your grandma was feeling lonely and you were feeling a bit insecure. Things usually make more sense when we’re honest about what’s really bothering us and are able to communicate that with the other people involved.

  8. Lesson #2 really resonates with me. Especially when I “know” I’m right.

    It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve had to try and learn. But in the end, remember that if you care about someone, the relationship that you have (and want to continue) is much more important than the short-lived satisfaction of someone saying you where right. (Which rarely happens anyway)

  9. What an engrossing article.
    Of all the conflicts that have been resolved, those involving ‘family’ continue to affect me in some way long after the event.

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