CONFLICT is a word that has got itself a bad name. Many of us try to avoid it at all costs because we have been brought up to believe that conflict is bad. Of course, that puts us in a difficult position because conflict is inevitable. All it requires for a conflict to exist is for two people to have different opinions or different goals in a situation where only one opinion or goal is possible. Invariably, any relationship, whether it is a personal relationship or a business relationship, will have conflict. It is impossible for people to co-exist having the same opinions and goals all the time.
Since we cannot not have conflict, the question must be around what we do with conflict. One option is to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist. In relationships where people claim to have no conflict this is normally the path taken. They have no conflict only because they refuse to admit there is a conflict. Not only does ignoring conflict lead to suppressed anger, festering discontent and passive aggression, it also denies the relationship the creative potential that lies in conflict.
Another option is to use conflict destructively. This scenario exists where one party insists on having their way at any cost. The process used in this case is to damage the other party to the point where they cease to offer resistance – and the aggressive party “wins”. Many people argue using destructive conflict handling methods. They make statements that are not so much designed to put forward their opinions as to hurt the other person. Typically, they drag facts into the argument that have no immediate relevance to the disagreement. A couple having a disagreement over finances suddenly discover themselves arguing about the fact that he never hangs up the bath towels! Again, there is no real victory here as the “loser” goes away unhappy, angry and looking for another opportunity to engage battle.
Conflict can be used creatively, in a way in which both parties openly and honestly share their opinions with the intention of finding a good solution. In this scenario, the parties deal with the conflict with the desire that, as far as possible, both parties “win” - finding a solution that is genuinely acceptable to both. In the best use of creative conflict, the final solution is greater than the sum of the two individual goals.
Conflict releases energy. That source of energy can be denied, or the energy can be used destructively. It can also be harnessed and used to produce movement in a positive direction.
The internal combustion engine is a great example of conflict harnessed to a positive end. Petrol fumes and sparks do not co-exist comfortably. Yet in the right conditions, and controlled in the right way, that conflict produces the energy which moves millions of people and tons of goods every day.
Conflict is not bad. Its value lies in harnessing it to generate energy for powerful solutions.