There are many myths about conflict. Namely, that conflict is bad. A barrier. Something that holds us back.
We may think, “If I could just overcome this conflict, I could get on with my life.” “If we weren’t fighting so much in this relationship. I could finally be happy. “
Research shows us one reason for our discomfort with conflict is the myths we have about it. These conflict myths prevent us from acknowledging or even recognizing what conflict looks like.
Let’s take a look a six common conflict myths…
1. A conflict is simply a disagreement.
All conflicts fall on a continuum. So disagreements are seen as a form of conflict, but they can be quite different.
Disagreements imply a difference of opinion on one particular issue. A resolution or better understanding can generally be reached through more effective communication.
Conflicts, on the other hand, are often more serious and complicated than disagreements. They are definitely better managed with effective communication, but also require deeper reflection and analysis.
This means we can’t just sweep conflicts under the proverbial rug. This is the very thing our next myth would like us to do…
2. Harmony is normal. Conflict is abnormal.
“Why can’t we just get back to normal?”
This question might have a familiar ring to it. It implies that being involved in a conflict is not a standard way of relating to this person. Conflict, however, happens in all relationships at some point or another.
Healthy relationships are not defined by never having conflict, but by how they deal with the conflict when it arises
Relationships are made stronger by acknowledging conflict and dealing with it productively.
This means facing the problem together and not as this third myth suggests…
3. The person is the problem.
When we are in the middle of a conflict it is all too easy to see the other person as the problem. We may characterize them as ‘sick,’ ‘codependent,’ or as having some sort of pathological condition.
There are certainly some people who have emotional or mental health disorders; however, conflict usually results from issues of personal or social circumstances and behaviours.
Turning from a blame-oriented posture means looking more objectively at all the various factors contributing to the conflict. This doesn’t mean we give up on the conflict. It means we do the opposite.
Our fourth myth highlights our reluctance to bring our issues out into the open…
4. Conflict should not be escalated.
Remember the common saying that “It always gets worse before it gets better?” There are time when conflicts actually need to be brought out into the open before they can be resolved.
Addressing conflict directly can be especially important in situations where there is unequal positions of power. Or where there is a perception of unequal power.
At times one person or group has to take a stand and speak out about a conflict in order for others to become aware of it.
These power dynamics point to a fifth myth…
5. There’s one “right” way to approach a conflict.
It must be said that remaining non-violent within a situation is important for a proactive, positive resolution of the conflict.
However, conflict-laden conversations are messy and confusing. The most important and productive conflicts are those that don’t follow a nice and orderly path of conversation. Tackling conflict effectively also doesn’t require you to be a conflict resolution expert.
Constructive solutions to a conflict are possible without a relationship guru.
The key to effective conflict resolution is that you are willing to acknowledge the conflict and remain open to learning new skills.
Part of developing these skills is listening to our emotions, which dispels our six myth…
6. Emotions are bad.
Emotions are very much involved in conflict, and can be thought of as our ‘guideposts’ in conversations.
Emotions are guideposts that measure just how important the conflict is to us.
Anger usually comes to mind when we think of conflict. But other feelings such as fear, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, and confusion are also important emotions to identify during a conflict.
As we see, misconceptions about conflict prevent the effective resolution of conflict. We may feel powerless and fearful to approach a difficult situation for fear of doing it wrong.
So it’s important to recognize these myths and consider some new perspectives. Re-writing old conflict myths ensures we identify the conflict in our lives, and that we learn the skills to better manage it.