Social conflict is a part of any relationship on the planet between individuals or groups of people. In the age of globalization and media, we are especially attuned to these conflicts and often overwhelmed by the seemingly terrific magnitude of them.
The question we will focus on today is: How can we make a better effort towards conflict resolution?
In the 1970s, yes a long time ago, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed a model of conflict, describing conflict as “the condition in which people’s concerns are incomparable”. If the things which two people care about are opposed, then there is conflict.
There are two ways to approach conflict according to the Thomas-Kilmann Model:
Assertiveness is the degree to which you wish to satisfy your own needs while cooperativeness is the degree to which you work to satisfy the other person’s concerns.
Beyond this, there are 5 strategies to employ in any conflict, those of which I hope can shed light and prove useful in today’s turbulent social scene.
- Avoiding = sidestepping the conflict
- Accommodating = satisfy the other person’s concerns at expense of your own
- Compromising = find an acceptable settlement that only partially satisfies both people
- Competing = satisfy your concerns at the expense of others
- Collaborating = find a win-win solution
We don’t even have to engage but if we do, then we need work to find a compromise or collaboration. They are the only two sustainable methods.
Avoiding will not solve anything. There is no “head-in-the-sand” model for finding solutions. So if you are to avoid, make sure that there is absolutely no way to find a positive outcome. Avoidance is a last-resort. Darryl Davis, an african american musician and activist, converts even the worst of us. He attends KKK rallies and has given countless talks and advice on the potential for even the most indoctrinated among us to radically change their minds. So before you deem someone or something as a lost cause, give them another look.
Accommodating and competing. Think: Why does someone have to lose? We need to approach every conflict and every situation with a positive psychology. We need to think abundantly and optimistically, not win or lose. Be curious, not competitive. Our approach is often the outcome in everything that we do in our daily lives. If you dread the work day, it will be dreadful. If you are anxious about tomorrow, tomorrow you’ll be appropriately filled with anxiety. So if we approach a conflict with an idea of winners and losers, then there will be losers and those losers could be us. If we have an idea that people have to lose when they talk to us, who is really the loser?
Compromise. In Kentucky, there is a famous statesman by the name of Henry Clay. But he had a nickname too, “The Great Compromiser”. Clay brokered some of the most controversial deals in history and is regarded as one of the most influential leaders of his time. There are also many issues in our time as well that need skillfully addressed. Perhaps we should all tap into Clay’s mindset when we approach our conflicts. If we can approach every conversation with the intention to find common ground, we have a better chance of finding it. But if our approach is one of animosity, we will just as easily find that too. It is our moral duty to assume that another person is somewhat justified in where they are coming from. We have to give people a chance for them to give us one too. Compromise often requires a heightened sense of compassion.
Lastly, the best turnout we can get is a win-win. A win-win situation looks like compassion followed by correction. Human conflict with race or socioeconomic disparity is a long and tragic story in western society. But there are heroes along that journey too.
There are people that led and progressed their relative times to a place of understanding and marked change. They did not do so with animosity or a scarce mindset. They did so with a sense of curiosity, courage and compassion. It takes courage to find a win-win solution where we can find love and progress.
The main problem with conflict, in my opinion, is our failure to delineate our beliefs from our identity. When someone disapproves of our opinions, we are quick to believe that they disapprove of who we are. But this is simply untrue. When someone doesn’t like our social media post, we assume that they dislike us or completely lack respect. Many then act the same in return. The importance of the ideas that we need to discuss are being undercut by immature personal attacks. Which is why we need to solve a lot of our conflict with ourselves before we can solve conflict with others. If we are not forgiving or compassionate towards our own mistakes or ignorance, we are led to condemn others likewise for their own. This cycle creates more conflict!
So the next time someone says something that provokes you, be mindful and analyze why you were provoked. And when you assume someone is so very wrong, examine why it is that you believe you are so right. An admittance of our own arrogance prevents us from being offensive while the mindfulness of our provocations keeps us from acting rashly.
It is not often you find someone that is a renaissance person or well-rounded genius and expert. Most of us know a little about a lot, or a lot about a little. There is a high probability that they and you are ignorant to some degree about something. It could be race, it could be biology, it could be psychology, accounting, feminism, whales, trees, chess, or 19th century existentialist literature. You name it. There are things some people are familiar with and others are not. So we need to accept we do not have the full story of other people’s life experiences or education, and this disconnect could be the cause of even more conflict.
We are always working on our own knowledge. Learning more, experiencing more, seeking more, earning more, creating more. So let’s seek not to condemn or compete, but to learn and teach with compassion and co-create a newer more positive mindset and achieve real progress.