Conflict will arise, even in the best of relationships. Whether between just two people or in an entire community, we’ve all been in situations where each person’s unique needs and different ways of seeing the world seemed incompatible.
Often outcomes in conflict include blowing up at each other, agreeing to disagree, or avoiding conflict entirely. But when you’re relying on others to get things done, conflicts that aren’t effectively addressed can undermine trust and end long-standing friendships, disrupt organizations, and destroy whole communities.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
You can learn to disrupt the patterns of conflict in ways that can lift you and others up and repair relationships after breakdowns. When you feel empowered with new habits and patterns of relating, you’ll end up with healthy resilient relationships that sustain you, your organization, and your community.
Three Keys for Conflict Transformation
The first key to disrupting patterns of conflict is to engage conflicts in a principled way: meaning in a way that’s aimed at increasing understanding, mutuality and not simply hurting another person or getting your way.
For example, if you raise your level of awareness to look at the context for the conflict you may see how power has been distributed unequally or how outside forces are acting on the community. You can then see how most conflicts are not simply interpersonal.
A principled approach to conflict ensures that your interactions will be transparent and in integrity, both of which are key to building trust. You’ll avoid common pitfalls in conflict such as using personal attacks, avoidance, getting even, or gossiping behind someone’s back.
The second key to disrupting patterns of conflict is to recognize how differences in power, real or perceived, influence behavior. Increasing your sensitivity to another person’s worldview and lived experiences can increase feelings of empathy and deepen your understanding of where they’re coming from. This increased understanding can form the foundation for respectful negotiations around needs, resources, and communication.
A final key to disrupting patterns of conflict is to appreciate the hidden influence that collective and inter-generational trauma can have on your own and others’ neurobiology. When you become aware of what trauma you may bring into a relationship, you’re more likely to be able to regulate yourself in the midst of challenges with others and create feelings of groundedness and calm.
Finding Common Ground
In addition to the three keys, a group or community can come to an agreement about what they are doing together and why. This “basis of unity“ grounds healthy conflict transformation practice and supports wise decisions. When you use the three keys and ground in a “basis of unity”, conflict can become a source of good relationships, and your organizations and communities can be places for hope and healing.
I’ll explore these concepts further in future posts in support of healthy conflict transformation.