The word “conflict” often carries negative overtones in our culture, with implications of hostility between parties, and even a military feel. A list of synonyms for this simple word only amplifies this feeling: clash, fight, dispute, strife, struggle, combat.

With such a negative value placed on such a simple word, is it any wonder that an entire industry has grown around coping with conflict; an industry which literally created the problem and now offers the solution, known as “conflict resolution”?

And yet, healthy conflict is always a step on the path to intimacy and real connection.

Consider a more neutral definition of the word “conflict”, which is merely, “A state of opposition between persons, ideas or interests.”

When conflict is a good thing

When you remove the powerful negative value placed on the word, when conflict becomes merely descriptive rather than prescriptive, a noun rather than a verb, disagreement can become the path to understanding. When we focus more on the data and different perspectives, and less on the fear of rejection, hurt or our need for approval or to be right, we increase the chances that we can express ourselves with compassion and respect and hear and comprehend the reasons for the other’s perspective.

This leads to increased communication, which is always a good thing, as well as a greater sense of understanding and increased empathy for the other person’s beliefs, needs, and wants. Just as you would want them to respect your opinion enough to grasp your point of view, you should seek to do the same for them, instead of letting your need to “be right” interfere with appreciating their viewpoint.

  • Don’t be right – be self-curious. Knowing the why and what of another’s argument is the key to understanding their reasons for disagreeing with you. By getting self-curious about your reactions to what someone is saying will prevent you from analyzing and determine who is right or wrong and just feel. The act of noticing how something is landing with you, and why, is the first step to not reacting out of emotion.
  • Don’t tell – listen. You’ll never understand anyone else’s viewpoint if you refuse to listen to what they have to say. Honor them by taking the time to actually hear what they have to say and give them the consideration they are due. Giving another genuine empathy is a consistent winning strategy when in conflict. And you never know, your curiosity may help you connect more with their perspective.
  • Don’t yell – be calm. Using the tactics of a bully (any inflation or “getting big” is bullying, it does not have to look like being loud or hitting someone) to “get your way” will never lead to true resolution of any conflict. Instead, it will only lead to resentment and further conflict down the road. While even grownups will argue, only bullies try to win through intimidation.

Whether in a business or personal relationship, disagreements naturally arise. If you see these situations as opportunities for increased understanding and improved connections, rather than personal challenges, you will have a much better understanding of why healthy conflict is a necessary step on the path to intimacy.

What difficult conversation are you avoiding? What on-going challenging relationship do you need to approach differently in order to deepen the connection?