Conflict is not an if, its a when. Conflict happens and regularly gets a bad rap, as our culture has mostly defined conflict as a negative. But is it?
Conflict: “A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.”
For a whole group of people, conflict can be much more encompassing. Even the slightest disagreement can feel like conflict with an associated negative, limiting response. How often have you experienced an over-the-top reaction to some statement or assessment you have offered? It is important to understand that everyone has an historically derived, built-in response or reaction to what will land on their Self as conflict. We can give a dictionary definition, but in reality, we’re all across the spectrum of diverse reactions in real life. Conflict is a kind of pressure or stress we feel coming at us. Under pressure and stress, we will react instinctively in one of several ways. Our reactions may be domain specific or determined by who we feel is pushing against us. Unmanaged, our reaction can range from moving away from conflict, moving against the conflict, acquiescing, or freezing. Our own individual, unmanaged reactiveness will most likely not resolve the conflict and will often just make things worse. As a likely cultural response, it is often assumed that conflict is negative and often our worse fears will surface.
Another “natural” response is to defend and explain. I use the word “natural” here due to seeing this human phenomenon show up almost everywhere, even in myself. But it is not a thing that happens in us for no reason, it has been infused into our personality from multiple directions.
So, what is the alternative? No conflict? Avoiding conflict? Pretending it’s not happening? I would suggest conflict is best addressed by walking into it. “Oh, boy!” you say, “fun!” And obviously not an automatically easy answer. Aikido offers the possibility to reinvent how we move with conflict, not against conflict. Is it easy? No. Will it be a skill that can be applied just because I know the idea of it? No. The reshaping of our individual and team practices related to conflict requires a focused practice and is a requirement of team cohesion with world class teams.
The first requirement is the practice of a new narrative. Our stories produce our reality, so let’s change the game:
Conflict is inevitable, useful, even generative, and can produce increased intimacy.
The new practice is to turn towards and face into the conflict. For most of us this is counterintuitive. And by turning into and facing, I do not mean pushing it away or fighting against it – now we’re in the old paradigm again. Part of the new practice is how we face into conflict, the mood with which we enter into the conflict. This new practice asks for patience, curiosity, empathy, and compassion. What?? In the face of what feels like an attack? Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting. This also means that I am willing and able to take a stand for dignity and integrity in this moment. I am NOT becoming a target; I am offering an alternative to the clash of conflict. I am suggesting that we can learn to manage the automatic, limiting reactiveness and shift into our best Self.
There is also the skill of evaluative listening. Most conflict is espousing interpretations and opinions, also called assessments. A practice of curiosity will assist in deeper understanding of other’s viewpoints and maybe even shift one’s position. When dignity and integrity become the ground for difficult conversations, we refrain from meanness, from dumping our emotions on other, from name-calling and blaming, and from shutting out other people.
These skills won’t always come easy. We will often be faced with our own limitations that may have to be dealt with and shifted. One cannot just overlay a new practice over an old practice. What is required is the reshaping of the old practice into something new and different. This sense of reshaping is one of the keys to systemic, fundamental change either as an individual or as a team.