On Conflict

“All polishing is done by friction.”—Mary Parker Follett

If you were asked whether conflict was a negative or positive concept, my bet is that you would choose negative. It’s what you hear regularly: Conflict in the Middle East! Conflict in Congress! But conflict can also be positive thing, a motivation for change for the better and the main engine of progress.

People who are content with the way things are rarely seek to change. It’s the ones who are not satisfied with the status quo, who see things as they might be, or as they want them to be, that push the rest of us along. And because many of us do not go willingly, there is often much conflict in society. It may not be pleasant, but history shows we tend to progress nonetheless.

The same scenario takes place in our own lives. We may go for months and years without major changes to our routines or our worlds. Then suddenly, boom! A partnership sours, a marriage fractures, businesspeople have disagreements, or neighbors begin to squabble.balance-rock-feather

We don’t like to be discomfited, so we tend to react negatively to changes. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. But the fact that others connected to us are dissatisfied with something in our relationships requires us to take a better look.

There are basically two choices before us and they both involve change. We can either make alterations to address the dissatisfaction, or take steps to leave the relationship. In either case, we will be in a different place once the change is effected.

In order to take control of any changing situation, you need to be proactive. So, if you’re seeking to repair a relationship, you’ll need to communicate openly with whoever has voiced a complaint. Often, you’ll need to identify support people and professionals who may be able to assist you. If you’ve decided to end a relationship, you have to identify your needs clearly, in addition to estimating the needs of the other person, in order to negotiate fairly. This may also require support people and professional help.

Either way, it’s important to remember that you are not incompetent, and you can deal with these changes, even if you need some help along the way. And the conflict that seemed so terrible when it first appeared may, in fact, push you to a better place in the future.

Ray Patterson is a facilitative mediator specializing in family law and commercial mediations. He was formerly the associate director of the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution at the William S. Boyd School of Law.


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