Conflict vs. Peace

The path through the messy middle

I’m in the midst of preparing a training session on the topic of conflict.

While I was focused skimming through sources on how to resolve conflict one paragraph made me stop and rethink.

Rather than viewing conflict as a threat, […] see conflict as a valuable opportunity to grow and increase our understanding of ourselves and others. Without it, life would be a monotonous flat topography of sameness and our relationships would be woefully superficial.

I had to re-read that one a couple of times to make up my mind. So far I perceived as something negative — something usually avoided, when courageous something to be resolved. That’s how I approached the training. But things changed.

What is conflict

When I talk about conflict I mean when the level of tension in a relationship or team reaches a point where some kind of action or intervention is needed in order to move things forward.

Researchers refer to it as cognitive and affective conflict. Cognitive conflict arises from the perception of disagreements about the content differences in viewpoints, ideas and opinions. Affective conflict arises from interpersonal tensions and is largely emotional in nature.

Conflict is a label in our mind

Most of our experience with conflict at work or in our home lives is anything but positive. For the great majority of us, the thought of tension and disagreements tend to be something we avoid rather than embrace. They are moments of presence-robbing tension.

Handled badly, through hiding, blame or gossip, conflict can be dangerous and destructive. Yet, handled properly, conflict can also be a lever to strengthen a relationship or a team bond.

Conflict is a matter of perspective, but in the end it comes down to what we do about it.

The enemy of shame is sharing

In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” the Author Brene Brown makes a point in saying that shame loves secrecy and judgment.

Keeping small mental monsters to us is our first choice. But conflict can’t be resolved by ourselves. It will continue to thrive and grow in the laboratory of our own mind.

On the other hand worries, tensions, feelings can be shared. Shared with those who earned the right to hear it from us. Shared with people we trust. To speak our minds about it with someone else makes it easier to gain perspective and courage to address the issue with the key person.

Sharing is the door to examination, understanding and can be a fuel for connection.

Don’t resolve conflict to establish peace

When it finally comes to addressing conflict we’re often in firefighter mode. Our alarm bells ring and we slide down on our mission to re-establish peace and finally resolve the conflict.

Resolving can be misleading. The establish-peace-quickly approach can rush us to quickly put a checkmark on the conversation and sing Kumbaya. Still things might be the same afterwards because we didn’t take the time to examine the whole truth.

The goal shouldn’t be to establish peace with someone. It should be to examine, understand and ask.

"[…] Rather than seeing peace as a static "end-state," view peace as a continuously evolving and developing quality of relationship. […]

Addressing an issue honestly, with time, curiosity and vulnerability gives us room to open a save space where we can connect. What I took from it is that peace doesn’t need to be the goal but comes through wandering the messy journey.

Conflict is a huge and broad field. There are many tools, techniques and steps with advice. But while I was searching for tangible how-to’s and steps to follow I noticed that the act of sharing and speaking honestly is just what might be needed.

Have a peaceful Sunday,