Thoughts on Interpersonal Conflict

I've been thinking a lot about conflict, online and off. Conflict is unavoidable, because no one agrees with everyone all the time. However, there are ways to minimize the emotional effects of conflict.

For example, recently I have had discussions with more than one person there who I really disagree with. That's to be expected when more liberal ideas mix with more conservative ideas. However, that would be oversimplifying the situation. Which brings me to my first contribution to conflict: assumptions.

When we hear a label, we tend to go immediately to what we believe that label represents. For instance, when I hear conservative, I think of social conservatives. They're the people who think I'm this horrible sinner, and that my wife and I are less human than they are, and doing something wrong by just following our hearts. Naturally, this leads to a less than positive reaction to the word. But that reaction is based on something completely unrelated to the person at hand. For one, there are very few true conservatives, where they are conservative about everything. This one person, for instance, is more of a fiscal conservative, and a security type conservative (military stuff), rather than a social conservative. We disagree with the way the country is run, but tend to agree on human rights at least, which is key for me. The lesson here is to not assume a label means what you think it means. Don't jump to conclusions.

Now it's also important to go beyond just labels, but to how everything a person says affects you. For instance, if you were offended by something, take a step back. Did the person mean to offend you? It's usually obvious if they did. However, most of the time people aren't trying to offend you. It's just like the labels issue; the conflict is really coming from inside you, rather than the other person. Much pain can be avoided when you realize where the conflict actually comes from.

Next thing to consider when conflict comes up, perhaps a heated discussion about something near and dear to your heart, it isn't the end of the world, or the relationship. As children, we write off friends and pick up new ones at the drop of a hat. But we're adults. We can't run away from our conflicts, even if we want to. Many times we have conflicts with people we need to work with on a daily basis, and we can't just stop speaking to them. Here are some things to keep in mind.

First off, when a debate gets heated, it is very rarely personal. Yet, we tend to take it personally. People have a problem with other people's beliefs, not necessarily them. For instance, this guy and I tended to clash a lot in college. However, over the years we were able to debate and still talk to each other later without any repercussions. We even had a discussion about gay marriage. He knew what he was saying personally affected me. And I called him on it, because especially with social issues it's important to remember that you're talking about people, not some vague theoretical concept. We were able to calmly discuss our views, as adults. I understood his point that he sees marriage defined in one way, though he doesn't have a problem with giving the equal legal equivalent. And I can agree with that, because I think we all need to compromise a bit. The point is, we didn't take things personally. I could have gotten upset, mistakenly believing he doesn't want my wife and I to have our life together. But that isn't really the case. By not getting upset we actually found an understanding between each other, and could remain the pseudo-friends we were.

Second, even if it is personal, it's not the end of the world. A person can only hurt you if you let them. If you can remain calm, they won't get as upset as if you return the emotions. We've all seen how quickly emotions can amplify, turning a small debate into a ball of flames! This is where meditation and breathing techniques come in. If we're mindful of our emotions, we can bring our focus to calm breathing, thus calming our mind and emotions. This keeps the debate in control.

The key, no matter what happens, is to find a way to release these emotions after the debate. Holding onto anger just brings forth more anger. And who really wants to go through life angry when they don't have to be? If you see this person on a regular basis, you can't hold onto that anger. It just causes more conflicts where there need not be any. Also, it makes you a rather unpleasant person to be around.

I say all of these things as a gentle reminder. We all have our bad days. But holding onto those negative emotions just makes things worse. I hope this brings a little perspective to your life. Even more, I hope this was