Conflicts on the menu!

“Leaders who do not fully grasp the concept that conflict of some sort is necessary (…) are destined to fail” (Amy Edmondson)

Four years ago, I separated from the father of my children.

In Belgium, the rule is the same for everyone. In the event of separation, custody is shared between the two parents.

Today the parental collaboration is rather smooth and we can be proud of this achievement.

Yet regularly, we are faced with somewhat delicate transitions. Like this past weekend.

I understood that healthy conflict, which is a key tool for collaboration, becomes really powerful in this case.

So today, I want to share my thoughts on healthy conflict, and why it’s an essential tool for an exceptional civilisation.

Hot topic on the menu!

On the importance of understanding our culture vis-à-vis conflict.

Many cultures approach problem solving as if they were going to war, and their key weapon is the conflict.

So, most often, people are uncomfortable with conflicts.

It is seen as a competition. As a battle to be won.

Strategies in this respect can be to counterattack or even create enemies.

Or, some others choose to escape.

But, what research says is that when we stop being afraid of conflict to be comfortable with it, then harmony becomes possible.

Healthy conflicts present powerful ways to build successful and balanced relationships.

In fact, conflicts provide an extraordinary opportunity to grow individually and together.

When done well.

Time to master their full potential!

Do not underestimate the need to prepare the culture for healthy conflict management. It’s not yet natural!

We must prepare the actors to shift from the “law of the jungle” strategy.

This is our automatic mode, which says that “only the fittest will survive”.

What we need instead is to embrace a powerful growth mindset.

In fact, to leave fears behind to move towards love.

Yes, all conflicts can be solved. No need for a wall.

But, we need to reinforce the “collective genius”.

None of the players can succeed alone.

In fact, only collective intelligence can save us, by solving the most complex problems!

And this is also why, also in the preparatory phrase, some facilitation is an absolute.

We cannot let the players alone with their conflicts, especially as we will ask from them less automatic behaviours.

For instance, it will be key to model the more productive behaviours and mindset we want to see, such as developing collaborative behaviours and, a compassionate mindset.

Otherwise, they might be lost and waste a precious energy.

Or worse, they could get irritated by some sorts of blockages.

Because a conflict cannot be resolved as long as the actors are between two strategies, to be the strongest or to be the most humble.

I find Adler’s philosophy to be of great help on this path to ensure actors agree to shift towards more equality.

Once everyone is ready. Time to deal with the conflict in itself.

The purpose until now was to demystify it.

Now, our aim is to seek resolution and move on in a more benevolent direction.

Although healthy conflicts is already part of a compassionate approach, you will have understood.

For this, I like to choose the powerful DEEP method.

  • D for “Differences between us”. Clarify the situation by emerging the friction. When my kids came home, I could see the tension between them. This tension had probably been there for a few days. Instead of letting this tension build up even more, I quickly sat down with them to try to figure out what was going on and why their energies were so negative. From this collective discussion, it was clear that my eldest was looking for social activities, while the youngest was looking for rest. And for a few days, as the differences had not yet been addressed, the situation had turned into a deep conflict. None of their needs seemed satisfied. On the contrary, the more my eldest sought some kind of interaction with his younger brother, the more my younger son rejected him, fueling a vicious circle. It was high time to act to break it.
  • E for “Emotional reactions and sensitivities we bring to the relationship”.
    • An emotional part must be taken into account in every conflict. And the first thing to do is to leave room for the emotional. We cannot deal in a rational way with a conflict, while the emotional reaction is still “on”.
    • In a child, the emotion usually leaves very quickly, she has not yet got used to it like many adults. The strategy is to teach her to understand how her emotions work. Because the sooner she can interpret how she functions, the sooner she will be freed from her emotions and sensitivities. In my case, to facilitate this process, I found it useful to make them take some distance with their emotional reactions, especially to see whether they would help to solve the conflict and lead us out of the vicious circle. Are the emotions helping to shift to a more virtuous circle, in which all needs are more or less satisfied? I like to make them explore the benefits of their reactions. And what other reactions could work better to satisfy their individual needs, while making the collective experience more enjoyable. I am almost ready to move to the “P” of this approach by addressing the more rational side of the conflict.
    • For the adult, it is different, the history of the person is to be taken into account in order to understand what attaches her to the negative emotion. Often, it is useful to involve third parties here to better understand the origin of sensitivities. Some adults for instance, became more in love with their emotions, than with people. It is important in such case to accompany a shift of awareness from emotions to people. And clarify the impact of their emotional reactions on them. What we want at this stage is to stimulate some sort of empathy, and leave the seat of the victim or judge, for instance. The conflict needs to take place between responsible adults. We are using transactional analysis here to mobilise the adult positions.
  • E for “External circumstances, particularly the stressful circumstances”. it is a question here of analysing the elements of context in order to understand how they interfere with the conflict to amplify it or reduce it. In the case of the past weekend for instance, my elder kid did not have school during the previous week, as it was closed again for COVID reasons. He had clearly good reasons for not feeling so well. In two years, the situation for our children has been totally unbearable. And the role of the co-parent in such context is to provide a lot of care to reassure the child that the situation is only temporary, that there is a way out. Acknowledging the pain is key. I understood that my son was seeking conflicts to express his difficulties with a challenging context. Listening attentively, even just a few seconds (because often kids do not really like to feel scrutinized, and adults too) often does the trick. But for this, parents need to have the energy (and the context is very hard for us too!).
  • P for “Patterns of interaction”. They can reinforce destruction, avoidance, or be mutually constructive, among a panel of other possibilities. The key is to improve the communication by showing the benefits in adopting more secure patterns of interactions. Lessons coming from the attachment theory can prove useful here. What we want at this stage is to provide a deep sense of security and trust, creating the conditions for a more productive collaboration now and in the future. It’s also the moment to see whether the patterns are contributing to satisfying the needs which have been identified. In this part, we want to identify with the children more productive patterns for future conflicts. We are co-designing here the virtuous circle.

Healthy conflicts are not only possible, they are also beneficial to improve any relationship.

Once you learn to master one, it will be easy to apply these lessons in any context.

We have to remember that in order to take good care of relationships , it requires us to learn how to deal with any friction.

Yes an exceptional civilisation knows that conflicts and harmony go hand in hand.

It is like a beautiful grass, you need to water it AND to remove the weeds.

If you master this process above, I can tell you everyone will be able to enjoy a good lawn for peace and play!

Nice outlook, isn’t it?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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