Conflict is an inevitable fact of human affairs. A life without interpersonal conflict is no life on earth. As a result, conflict management is a fundamental life skill. Learning to avoid and defuse conflict will save a lot of emotional heartache and improve health outcomes. Fortunately, there’s a basic principle of conflict resolution that I’ve observed in effect time and again.
Conflict has staying power because emotions and pride get involved, two of the most powerful forces in the universe. When people get offended, they would often rather smolder with resentment than address the issue head-on. Direct confrontation is uncomfortable. And maybe they believe the other person acted with intention hence the futility of bring it up. Conflict can last days, weeks, months, and even a lifetime if it doesn’t get addressed. Depending on the closeness of the relationship, it can wreak havoc on the inner and external life of an individual.
You have to go first—In order to resolve conflict, you have to swallow your pride. You have to look at the situation objectively and identify the forces at work. As I illustrated in what lettuce can teach us about understanding, there is always a reason behind what people do. You may rightly think that the other person is primarily in the wrong. But it’s rare for there to be a conflict where one party is totally in the wrong and the other person handled the situation perfectly. You can start by addressing to that individual what you could have done better before giving your complete perspective of the situation. If you can’t think of anything, you can at the very least apologize for any misunderstanding that may have taken place. I used to tell myself I would never say “I apologize,” even in a limited sense, unless I know I did something wrong. But when I observed people who lead with these words get good results, I concluded that conflict resolution was more important to me than semantics.
In a state of conflict, people usually assume the worst about the other person’s intentions. Taking the humble initiative is the best way to remedy that. It communicates to the other person that you care about them. That you value their emotions and experience. That you are eager and desirous to move forward. Most people have enough light in them to appreciate this. When this takes place, a happy resolution is soon to follow.
Let’s have the courage to go first. Our mind and our body will be glad we did. Has this principle worked for you? I’m also interested to hear what other strategies you might have for conflict resolution.