3 Lessons on Overcoming ConflictsPeace 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.