There are a few common myths about conflict that have a great deal of influence in the Western world. I will briefly highlight three myths and then succinctly refute each one.
Myth #1: Conflict is always destructive. Most conflicts are not an enjoyable process. No one likes to have another person disagreeing with them. And even though a conflict can drain your energy (and your wallet), they are NOT all destructive conflicts. Many disagreements lead to more discussion, more planning, and better solutions. The key is to know how to (a) manage your emotions, (b) manage the other person’s emotions, and (c) stay focused on the problem. If any of these three criteria are difficult for you to achieve — and they are not easy for most people — then you might think about hiring a mediator/facilitator to structure your conversation. Adding a little structure to your disagreement can turn a potentially destructive conflict into a productive conversation. Remember, conflicts can be an opportunity to improve your life if you stay away from the pitfalls of negative, aggressive, and defensive communication patterns.
Myth #2: “Fight or Flight” are the only ways to deal with conflict. The media loves to talk about the now ancient psychological and physiological studies suggesting that the only ways to deal with conflict are to fight it out or run away. Unfortunately many people subscribe to this conventional wisdom and will either physically, verbally, or legally fight our their battles, or worse yet will remain silent and avoid conflict…until they explode! This is the classic “either-or” fallacy that paints two opposing options from which someone must act. In reality there are many ways to deal with conflict, and one of the best starting points is to sit down and talk with the other person. If this isn’t productive, bring in a neutral party to listen to both sides (e.g., friend, counselor, mediator) who can help each side articulate what they really want and why that is important to them. When we try to “fight back” in a conflict we put ourselves into a corner and limit our response options, but if you try to communicate first and that fails, you can always take the conflict into the legal sphere to battle it out and hope for a favorable verdict.
Myth #3: Conflicts can always be solved. Unfortunately there are some conflicts that run so deep that they cannot be solved in a traditional sense; sometimes it is just better to “agree to disagree.” Just look at the Arab-Israeli situation that has progressed, or remained inert, over the past 50 years. These groups of people find very little to agree about including religion, sovereign boundaries and land occupation, and cultural customs such as food and clothing. These type of conflicts are tied to people’s value systems which are some of the most difficult disagreements to overcome because they form a large part of people’s identities. Although our identities are wrapped up in every facet of our life, when we are in disagreement with others we feel personally threatened, and this is only exacerbated when the conflict is tied to morality, religious disagreement, and social norms. It is wise to be able to recognize when a conflict will not be solved by communication alone, but it is foolish to not try to communicate first.