How to Deal with Unresolved Conflicts


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by Jayaram V

Summary: This essay is about conflict resolution, and how to deal with unresolved conflicts before they end up causing further problems.

A conflict is a clash of opposing, competitive, disagreeable, inimical or incompatible forces, thoughts, interests, intentions or actions, which are usually accompanied by antagonistic and negative feelings and emotions. Conflicts are inherent in Nature and play an important role in natural selection and survival of the fittest.

In their struggle for survival, all living beings have to deal with conflicts and conflicting situations as a part of their self-preservation and continuity. Religions recognize the conflict between good and evil forces as an inherent aspect of existence and the triumph of the good over evil as a proof of the existence of God and his lordship.

The most common response to conflicts among all species is either fight or flight, with a range of options in between. In our daily lives we deal with various types of conflicts with Nature, others, other living beings, world, society and ourselves. In resolving these conflicts, we have to balance our needs and interests with our concerns, survival and self-preservation. When they are too difficult to manage, conflicts become too complicated and difficult to resolve.

Unresolved conflicts affect our lives at many levels. They are like festering wounds that refuse to heal, draining our energy, consuming our attention and disrupting our normal lives. Just as unresolved problems, they may also lead to many complications and further conflicts. External as well as internal conflicts are a major source of worry, anxiety, anger, fear, aggression, withdrawal, stress and other health problems. In extreme cases, they lead to abnormal, violent or self-destructive behavior.

In work places unresolved conflicts can lead to loss of productivity, disruption of normal work, union problems, lawsuits, negative publicity, loss of morale, loss of markets, and workplace violence. In personal lives, they can impair relationships or cause intense personal and emotional stress and anxiety due to negative emotions, physical and mental abuse or violence.

A popular model of conflict resolution

One of the suggested models of conflict resolution, known as the dual concern model involves five specific approaches or strategies namely avoidance, submission, aggression, conciliation and cooperation. The last two are considered to be the most effective and lasting solutions. A traditional Indian model which seemed to have been widely followed by kings in ancient India suggests four approaches to deal with conflicts namely friendliness (sama), gifting or giving (dana), intensifying the conflict or the hostility (bheda) and using violence or aggression (danda). The last one is supposed to be used as the last resort.

Conflicts remain unresolved for various reasons. Emotions, clashing egos, prestige and status issues, the importance we attach to conflicting interests, negligence, misunderstanding, misinformation, outside interference and various other factors make any conflict resolution difficult. It is why sometimes conflicts are intentionally left unresolved as a strategy to weaken the opponent or cause trouble or extract more concessions.

Whatever may be the reason, you have to weigh the consequences of letting any conflict remain unresolved. If the payoff from the resolution of a conflict is too much, it is better to wait until more favorable terms are offered. Otherwise, see how best you can resolve the problem through negotiations, conciliation, cooperation, compromise, etc. If you are looking for better solutions, you must be willing to find a common ground or a middle ground. The following approaches help.

1. Show willingness: You must genuinely be willing to resolve any conflict, and let others know that you are open to dialogue and discussion for an amicable settlement. You can express willingness through words and actions or through middle persons. When the negotiations are in progress, it is better to be silent and not say anything to avoid further complications and misunderstandings.

2. Take initiative: Many conflicts can be resolved if you are willing to set aside your ego and show initiative to start a dialogue. However, it is possible that this strategy may backfire, if the other party considers it to be a sign of weakness. The best approach is to set clear and firm terms for negotiations and let the other party know that it is in the interests of both.

3. Pay attention: Conflicts may arise due to lack of attention, communication or consideration between the conflicting sides. Most often, it is due to negligence, ignorance or lack of empathy and consideration, which complicate matters and make any resolution difficult. If you are willing to listen and understand or pay attention to the other side, you can easily resolve or even avoid many problems.

4. Build credibility and trust: Conflicts persist due to distrust, suspicion and fear. Your reputation precedes you. If people believe that you are trustworthy, transparent and reliable and possess character and integrity with sound judgment, they will be more willing to deal with you. It means you must consistently keep your promises and build a good reputation as credible and dependable person.

5. Be considerate: Most conflicts remain unresolved because of clashing egos, interests, beliefs and opinions. In a conflict situation most parties may even refuse to communicate due to the emotions it creates. If the other party believes that you are considerate and willing to listen to their side of the problem, they will be happy to respond to your positivity.

6. Do not close all doors: Giving up conflict resolution should always be the last option. Despite the stress, frustration and negativity it often generates, it should be done only in extreme cases when you perceive that you have to lose more by coming to an agreement, rather than continuing the conflict. Otherwise, do not give up hope, and keep trying various alternatives, until you find a solution.

7. Seek third party intervention: When conflicts are too complex or when emotions are too high and when direct communication is almost impossible, it is better to seek the intervention, arbitration or mediation of a third person or persons, who can view the problem on both sides with detachment and objectivity and suggest an impartial and amicable solution.

8. Be assertive but not aggressive: Conflicts generate many strong and negative emotions, in which any sign of aggression or posturing can generate a strong and opposite reaction, making the conflict even more difficult to resolve. Therefore, avoid aggressive behavior, but be firm and assertive to protect your interests or stand for your beliefs. At the same time, you must recognize that others have a right to be assertive and firm.

9. Be patient and persistent: Conflict resolution may take a long time due to any number of reasons. Your methods may not always yield results and people may not act according to your expectations. There can be many intervening factors over which you may not have control. Be patient as you persistently try different methods and approaches or wait for the right time or opportunity

10. Develop proper perspective: Conflicts persist mainly because of lack of proper perspective on both sides as they look to their own interests and as their thinking is clouded by their own beliefs, emotions, opinions and prejudices. Therefore, it is necessary to a develop proper perspective and understanding of the whole problem through negotiations and discussions in an impassionate environment.

Take them seriously

All conflicts are problems which need our attention. It is better to be proactive and recognize potential conflicts and take preventive action, before they become toxic. Just as problems become crises if they are not solved in time, conflicts create crises too if they are left unresolved for long. The world has seen how long-standing conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere have disrupted whole countries and communities and led to mass migration and other problems. Conflicts in our personal lives and internal conflicts within ourselves can also adversely affect our peace and Wellbeing.

Therefore, do not let conflicts linger for long. Deal with them in the most rational manner, without succumbing to emotional turmoil. As stated before, to resolve a conflict we have to balance our interests and priorities with our concerns, allowing the other to do the same. In doing so, we must be willing to make necessary adjustments so that all the parties in a conflict have something to feel good about.

It means we have to choose appropriate strategies that are less confrontational and more empathetic and amicable. While asserting our rights and protecting our interests, we must allow others to express theirs. These strategies may not always work in our favor or resolve the conflicts. When a conflict cannot be resolved, the best we can do is to contain it and wait for further developments and opportunities.

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