Phases Of Conflict
Hi, my name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy and the Director of Agile Business Innovation. In the Academy I train people from beginner coach, to team coach, to organizational coach, to supervisor. I have seven programs that people can follow to become accredited coaches internationally. At the moment, I’m giving those training programs in 10 different countries, and you’re very welcome to join us at www.intactacademy.com.
In the agile business, I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. My chief goal or motivation for that is to accelerate their time to market, especially now in COVID times, we realize that anything that’s under pressure becomes fluid. I help businesses keep that up, even when there’s not so much pressure around. We have to change the way we lead, we cooperate, we partner to survive in this world. That’s what I do for you. If you want to know more about that, go to www.agilebusinessinnovation.com.
Now, we’re talking about conflict at the moment because it’s really preoccupying me. As I said, there’s riots in Holland against the COVID measures. There’s riots in the United States on the White House steps. But what is going on? Is it that we’re getting so rigid under stress? Is it that people are losing all sense of perspective at the moment, because they’re isolated in their own homes? So I thought, it’s really time to talk about conflict again, and how to create healthy conflict. We’ve talked about what conflict is, and we’ve talked about the types of conflict at the moment. Now I want to talk about phases of conflict and conflict management styles.
How do you know it’s a conflict? Well, a conflict is, as I said, when you’ve got different goals, but you’re dependent on each other for a resolution. That’s a really good reason to keep on talking to each other. But you don’t always realize it’s a conflict. Sometimes conflict starts really softly, and then it grows and grows and grows. And suddenly, it’s completely escalated. So that’s not really a good way to go about it. What’s important for you is to recognize when conflict starts. Often conflicts start in a very latent way, we call it a latent conflict, so you’re unaware of it consciously. What you can notice is the unconscious registration of conflict. It is likely you’ve got a tell, you know, in poker, everyone has a tell when you’re bluffing. You also have a tell, a non verbal behavior. In conflict. There’s some form of non verbal, physical somatic reaction you have to conflict. For some people, it’s migraine. For other people, it’s a stomach ache. Other people notice that they’re tensing their muscles, they’re raising their shoulders, or there is some nagging feeling they have or even anxiety when they wake up. You know, when you have those signals, it’s really good to check in your environment, close your eyes and ask yourself, “is there a hearth of conflict anywhere in my life that I need to resolve anything at the level of, physical, mental, emotional or spiritual? Is there anything that’s conflictuous at the moment in my life?”. There’s a reason for your tension. Your body doesn’t lie.
The other thing is acknowledged conflict where people are aware of their differences. If you’re lucky, they’re also aware that they’re dependent on each other to resolve it. Here, in my household, I have a continuous aware and acknowledged conflict about tasks in the household. Certainly in COVID times, you need to invest a bit more time in that. Someone has to do the shopping, the cleaning, and both of us work at home. So we have an acknowledged conflict. Now and then it goes “arrgh” because one of us has forgotten the milk or the other hasn’t cleaned up the stairs. You know, small things, but acknowledged.
So we have a talk about it, we live in the same house, we both have an interest in resolving this. If we don’t do this about the small stuff, what’s gonna happen with the big stuff? That’s something you should ask yourself, too. If I don’t deal with the small stuff, what’s gonna happen with the big stuff? The small stuff is great, because you can practice your conflict styles. You can practice. Gosh, if it’s about the “who puts out the trash stuff”, am I able to stay in contact, acknowledge my dependency, still say, “I love you and the trash has to be out the door by Tuesday”? Practice all the small stuff, is my advice, and then you’re ready for the big stuff. And I hope for you, it never comes around.
The third level really of the face of conflict is when it becomes emotional. That’s why I said practice small stuff, because in the emotional conflict, the danger is that you get into what we call “a life position” you really don’t want to be at. If everything’s going well in your relationships and there’s no stress, then you’re fluid in the way you deal with conflict. You can switch from being loving, to being strict, to being playful. That’s all fine, you know, “no stress, no spang”, as we used to say in Aruba where I was born. However, when things get heated up, and really, you don’t have a lot of time and you haven’t practiced on the small stuff, suddenly, there’s a big deal to deal with. You’re in the middle of an emotional conflict. In that case, we talk about four life positions.
The first life position is, “I’m okay, you’re okay. And they’re okay”, which means, “I may not like your behavior, but you’re still okay with me”. it sounds like 60s slang, and that’s probably where it came from. Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, used to say, “you’re okay, I’m okay”. What he meant was “you’re worthy, I’m worthy, but your behavior, nuh uh, but I can still talk to you about the behavior and still love and respect you”. When you’re not under stress, that’s really easy to do.
The problem with the emotional level of conflict is you’re under stress, you’ve probably not practiced the small stuff, you haven’t been aware of the conflict and suddenly it’s there. The danger is you move into a not okay life position. Some people move into, “I’m not okay, you’re okay”. Suddenly, they take the blame, shame or guilt for their part of the conflict. If you’re in that, it’s really, really difficult to stay in contact and to resolve it together, because then one person is more okay than the other. Then it becomes a power conflict. Anyway, if “I’m not okay, you’re okay”, during the conflict, I will walk away and think “nobody ever loves me. See, nobody ever does anything for me”, and you go away thinking “I always have to do everything around here”. It’s going to come back because you haven’t resolved it at the emotional level.
The second life position is, “I’m okay and you’re not okay”. Which is a little bit the way we were talking about America and Trump. I always think America is us as well. We can talk about Trump easily, he’s very easy to talk about, but really, I’m a little bit more okay than they are because they voted for him. It is not such a good way to resolve our differences. The same is true in a relationship, if I think potentially, I’m better and more dominant than you are, it’s difficult to get out of a conflict. You can do it at a behavioral level, but underneath, you don’t resolve it. This is because emotionally, you’re saying “I’m worth more than you are”, or “my time is worth more than yours is”. That makes it very difficult to end up in an
equal position of, “hey, we’re both dependent on each other, so we’ve both got to give”.
The last stage of conflict resolution after the latent and acknowledged emotional is the manifest type of conflict. This is where you see people escalate. We say people escalate in passive aggressive behaviors. What you see people doing in manifest conflict where they don’t resolve it in a good way, don’t stay in dialogue, don’t say, “I’m willing to change to be able to stay in contact with you”. You see people going into withdrawal, negative withdrawal, doing nothing. Then maybe hoping it will pass but at the worst doing nothing, because they think, “it’s not my problem”. So in a sense, cutting the relationship by saying, “we’re not dependent, find out for yourself”. Really, if you do that a lot, this negative withdrawal, you’re gonna start fraying the strings of whatever binds you. In The Lord of the Rings, they say the one ring that binds you all. However, it’s more than all the attachments you form over time, your historical attachments, your emotional, your spiritual attachments.. If you go into that withdrawal in the manifest stage, the passive aggressive withdrawal, then you’re actually saying, “I’m not dependent on you”, and you’re starting to cut these little strings and rings that bind you.
The other passive behavior is agitation. Sometimes during conflict, you see people flicking their pens, or they start walking up and down. I remember one guy who told me he always got into a conflict with his wife before vacations. I asked him, “so what do you do?”, and he said, “I walk up and down the hallway”. I then asked, “Does that help you resolve your conflict?”, “No, I just get more angry,” he replied. It’s true. If you agitate, you’re starting to make yourself more angry, physically, you’re escalating. That makes it really difficult to go back down into “we’re going to have a dialogue”.
The other form of passive behavior is harming yourself. Harming yourself can be in very many different ways. People can do it physically, but harming yourself also means pretending that you don’t need anybody. It’s really important that you realize you’re a human being like the rest of us. We’re social animals. You might forget it during Corona time but this social contact is so important for us. Not only for our health of heart, but also for our brain function. We get stimulated by touch. Therefore, if you’re in this space where you think “I don’t need anybody”, you’re actually damaging your own development and it’s not a really good place to be.
Of course, the last, passive behavior in manifest conflicts that’s unhealthy is violence. Violence can be verbal, it can be physical, but any type of violence, of course, is a sign of powerlessness to enter into a dialogue. Sometimes I see my little nephews go around and they go, “I hate you”, when I tell them to go to bed. Sometimes I think it’s also a test to see if “I’m still standing”. You know, it’s their powerlessness, but they’re still reaching out in that violence. In grownups, it’s not so good. I guess, if you’re very Buddhist and forgiving, you would say violence is a way of reaching out. However, it’s not a good way to resolve a conflict.
So the question to you is, are you watching out enough for the latent stages of conflict? Do you watch your somatic reactions? And take them seriously to check, is there an area of conflict in my life that I need to resolve? If there’s an acknowledged conflict, can you go up to that person and say, “hey, we’ve got different goals, but I really am dependent on you for resolution”, be it in your family or in business? How are we going to find the best third option? You know, at the emotional level? Are you checking enough if you’re staying in this, “okay, okay place – listen, even if we have a difference of opinion, you’re still someone of worth as much worth as I am”. And the fourth question I ask of you is, can you stay out of these passive behaviors? withdrawal, agitation, violence? When you’re in conflict, are you able to stay in contact? And if you find that hard, what is it that would help you stay in contact, it’s really important to resolve conflict.