Help I am getting into conflicts

Q: Help! I keep getting into arguments with my friends and family. But I really want to avoid conflicts. How should I do that?

Answer: It is understandable that you feel your arguments with other important people in your life are affecting you negatively and you wish such conflicts were not present at all. First of all, let us understand the genesis of interpersonal conflicts, and whether it is possible to not have conflicts between individuals.

Conflict generally happens when there is a difference in opinion between individuals, which might be due to their belief systems or values. Such differences occur because individuals have unique life history and experiences which shapes their perspective on various things. Thus it is inevitable! The severity of conflict depends on how strongly each holds onto his/her point of view without necessarily accommodating other’s views. But this is where one can intentionally change something. We can learn how to manage conflicts well and resolve them, with a balance of concern for oneself (assertiveness) and others (empathy).

Q: I have seen some people always try to win their arguments and others who always give in. Which one is always better and how do I develop it?

Answer: Yes people have a variety of styles of managing conflicts, which may include always giving in to others, out of concern for others or for the relationship in general. While others may have a competitive style where they try to force their opinion on others and gain power. Apart from these two rather extreme styles many people either try to find a win-win solution for both self and other person, or try to find a solution which is fair to both parties. Some people also have a predominant style of avoiding conflicts as long as they can, by changing topics, joking about it etc. As a style it may be more prevalent where everyone tries to have harmony and avoid conflicts.

Trying towards a win-win or a fair solution is most desirable, but most people use a variety of approaches to manage conflicts. Which approach a person may take at a given point will usually depend upon a combination of influences such as their goals in a particular situation, their values and belief systems, their own mood state, the other person involved as well as the context and culture.

When you are in a conflict situation about something important, our emotions get entangled. You need to first calm yourself down by distracting yourself, drinking water, exercise, going away etc. Then try to understand why this issue is important to you. And also try to get into other person’s perspective, and understand why this issue might be important to the other person. What would be her/his ideas and beliefs? Most of the times there are no absolute right or wrong positions, so it is important to develop concern for the other person along with for yourself. Then you might try to find a fair or win-win solution which is also mutually acceptable.

However in spite of differences, there should be a mutual understanding and acceptance of ‘no hurt-no violence’ contract. If a conflict leads to some kind of violence, or even threat of violence, then it is important to end that relationship, till this contract is agreed upon to be followed.

Q: Should I accept other’s opinion to resolve conflicts? What happens when I work in teams and there are differences between various members of my team?

Answer: Conflict may arise due to true differences or can also be due to simple misunderstanding/miscommunication between people. When conflicts arise out of misunderstanding, gracefully acknowledging that you made an error and accepting other’s point of view will help you grow as an individual, and also build healthy relationships. Rephrasing and articulating other’s point of views help in bringing clarity to yourself and others, and reduces misunderstanding.

Constructive differences in group/team discussions are in fact healthy. They aid in arriving at informed decisions. These may be seen more as conflicts in positions taken by individuals, rather than conflicts between individuals. Such differences can be addressed, first by listening to everyone’s viewpoints and articulating the differences and then by bringing the focus on the larger objective and building consensus. Showing empathy when listening and influencing generally helps resolve conflicts amicably through consensus.

Q: Help! At times, I wonder whether my own opinions and conclusions are right and feel miserable with myself.

Answer: Intra-personal conflict is within your own mind and it involves thoughts relating to your own principles, values and emotions. These conflicts may range from deciding between options on everyday tasks to important decisions such as choosing a career path. These conflicts can cause restlessness and may lead to significant distress.

Even these conflicts, if resolved well, can help you in understanding yourself better and aid self-discovery and growth. First step is to recognize those inner conflicts and be aware of the origin of those conflicts – be it your own principles, beliefs or values. Being ignorant about the origins of the conflicts may cause unnecessary anxiety and stress. On the other hand, being aware and thoughtful about these inner conflicts can create breakthroughs.

You can talk to other people, read up about various related perspectives and contemplate over it in the context of your own life experiences. Simply experiencing an internal conflict ‘as-is’ without judgment and raising yourself to become a part of the solution will help your personal growth. Sometimes one may have to cultivate patience for the questions itself, because there may not be easy answers to some inner conflicts. And one will learn and resolve them gradually over the course of life.

Expert:Dr Jyotsna Agrawal

Dr Jyotsna is assistant professor of Positive Psychology at the Dept. of Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS, Bangalore