What is a conflict? You might feel a negative connotation when hearing this word. Synonyms of the word conflict that come to mind include “disagreement,” “argument,” and “dispute.” People might also say phrases such as “we aren’t seeing eye to eye,” “we aren’t getting along,” “we have bad blood,” or “I don’t agree with them, so we aren’t speaking.” When we use this language with ourselves or someone else during a casual venting session, we tend to believe this is the end-all and be-all.
Individuals are faced with conflict in many different settings. One might feel conflicted with themselves regarding a current decision or a decision they’ve made in the past. A person might conflict with another individual from their personal or professional environment. Conflicts might also arise within groups of people who share similar feelings. What do these all have in common? Each person individually experiences a thought stemming from an opinion that holds truth or value to themselves. Our judgments can often cloud our thoughts and how we articulate our point of view. Past experiences can shape the way we view the world as a whole. Maybe even reading this has already made you think of a time when a conflict occurred, leading to a negative emotion. But is conflict always negative or bad? Here are some of its potentially constructive effects:
Conflict increases vulnerability and communication.
What does it mean to be vulnerable? When we’re vulnerable, we break down the walls that protect us. Sharing our vulnerabilities and triggers can allow us to be more sensitive to both ourselves and others. It reminds us that it’s okay to feel emotions and have reactions. When recovering from conflict and rebuilding relationships, vulnerability allows individuals to reflect on what topics and beliefs may hit close to home and have a well-rounded perspective of that person’s experience. On a day-to-day level, it gives individuals an awareness of what we need from one another to sustain a given relationship.
Conflict promotes mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a conscious state of both mental and physical awareness. When we’re mindful, we observe our own state of being and the environment in front of us with a clearer lens. When in the midst of conflict, mindfulness may be activated when we take a step back and consider our current emotional state before responding. It’s that point in a conversation when you might bite your tongue and notice that any thought said aloud could have lasting negative consequences.
Conflict gives space. Taking a break is okay!
When we’re mindful of what we and/or another person needs, we know how to respond more effectively. Oftentimes, people choose to take a break when the conflict has reached its “boiling point.” Sometimes the decision might be mutual; other times, one person might decide to walk away out of respect for the other. When we take a step back, reflect, and return to a situation, we can surprise ourselves with what we learned and how to move forward. We also appreciate the other person more, depending on their role in relation to us. The conflict may not feel as heated because we took the time to notice the bigger-picture perspective and acknowledge the potentially unmet goal.
Conflicts teach us that there isn’t just one side to a situation.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based approach devised by Marsha M. Linehan, studies the gray areas of life. When conflict is present, we often want our rightness to be affirmed and/or make someone learn another perspective. In certain situations, this may be argued. However, in DBT, “dialectics” promote change by ensuring that a dialogue takes place between the two opposite sides in which both sides can be right. When speaking dialectically, statements are framed as “and'' rather than “but.” One simple example is, “The day can be sunny and rainy.” The examples listed below relate to the topic at hand:
“I can have a disagreement with someone and still have respect for them.”
“I can have an opinion and still validate the other person.”
“I have a relationship with someone, and I don’t agree with their belief on XYZ.”
Our behavioral patterns often stem from the balance of both sides.
Conflict teaches us how to stand up for what we believe in.
While it’s helpful to see another’s viewpoint on a situation, it’s also important to advocate for oneself. Conflict opens the door to be more honest with oneself and practice assertiveness. Many times, people walk away from arguments feeling unsatisfied with the outcome. When this happens, a similar conflict may arise in the future because of the lack of a long-term solution. Assertiveness sets a boundary and builds respect both for oneself and the other party. This can increase communication on both ends and reduce the conflict cycle.
Conflict can be healthy!
While it’s not necessary to react every time we experience a difference of opinion, we can utilize what’s listed here to grow within our relationships and accept conflict as a way to learn. These techniques start from within and become stronger with practice. Remember, it’s okay to have conflict—especially if the end result is becoming a better version of ourselves!