There’s that old saying that two things in life are inevitable—death and taxes.
I think several other items can be added to that list, with one of them being conflict. Conflict is that uncomfortable, sometimes nasty stuff that happens when we feel threatened at the intersection of imbalances in power, money, or values:
- Power conflict is prompted by disparities in control and influence.
- Economic conflict results when there’s jockeying for access to and ownership of limited or scarce resources.
- Value conflict bubbles up when there are varying preferences, principles, and practices between people’s ways of life and their ideologies.
Differences, another item that can be add to the list of inevitables in life, rest at the heart of all conflict.
People’s reaction to differences isn’t dissimilar from their reaction to conflict. Some try to ignore it, others try to vanquish it.
Others outsource taking care of it. “Come on, sweetie,” implored my mom. “You and your sister have to get along. You’re the oldest, so smooth it out.”
We can love what we are, without hating what- and who we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings. ~ Kofi Annan, diplomat
When some people encounter the discord that’s prompted by differences, they, also like my mom, want the antagonism to go away.
That’s really not an option.
sometimes the differences in power, money, or values are just too broad or deep to be closed. In those cases, the best we can hope for is to manage the conflict, manage the middle ground, and lessen the potential for destruction.
6 methods for managing discord
Experts tell us six courses of action exist for managing conflict:
- Severing the connection
Avoidance might work in the short-term, but doing so is like playing whack-a-mole. We can’t hide forever from conflict.
Annihilation is effective in ending the discord. However, wiping someone or something out isn’t a viable method for addressing conflict except in cases of war or defensible homicide. (And some rightfully pushback on its need in those circumstances).
Severing the connection isn’t much better. While severing may be less violent than annihilation, it’s avoidance that can result in cool neglect at best or oppression at its worst.
Stalemate results when the parties to a conflict give up. In a stalemate, the conflict may appear to have been resolved, but usually it’s been hidden, suppressed, or reduced to a “cold war” of ridicule and criticism. Psychologists describe stalemate as an intermediate stage of conflict that results from “failure of contentious tactics, exhaustion of resources, loss of social support, and unacceptable costs.”
Compromise is reached through mutual agreement or negotiation. While the underlying differences may remain, the parties agree to split the differences. Everyone gives up a little. It’s like the lessons we learned in childhood about sharing our toys and playing nice in the sandbox.
Some people say that when you compromise, you’re selling out. Things are either my way or the highway.
Other people see the personal and societal benefit in give-and-take as they believe there’s no one answer for all beliefs, morals, and values.
In synthesis, the sixth method for managing discord, people agree to maintain their differences while transcending them in pursuit of a greater purpose. If that sounds a little contradictory or confusing, think about inhaling and exhaling. Life isn’t possible without doing both despite that they appear to be opposites. The same two sides of one coin principle applies to many of life’s joys and challenges. Love isn’t possible without thinking and feeling. Leadership isn’t effective without results and relationships.
Differences simply act as a yarn of curiosity unraveling until we get to the other side. ~Ciore Taylor, author
Achieving synthesis requires people to abandon the polarization that results from I’m right/you’re wrong positioning. Synthesis depends on people’s ability to see both sides of the coin. It requires that they focus more on “we” than “me.” It means people decide to be both curious and accepting of the differences that contribute to a greater good.
Synthesis demands that people shift their paradigm about conflict, discord, and differences. That shift involves moving away from seeing conflict as something negative to be stamped out to embracing differences with trust and acceptance.
Creating the bridge from one side of the coin to the other is something everyone can do—provided we put our heads and hearts into it. What do you think?
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay