The Beauty of Conflict

Sunday, Jun. 5th 2011 11:12 PM

Do you shy away from conflict, afraid that rocking the boat will ruin your relationship? The truth is that conflict can be healthy for relationships where there is mutual respect, because of what we learn about ourselves, each other and how to better co-exist with the one we love.

A year ago, I had the pleasure of reading “I Know You Are, But What Am I?”, an Inc. magazine article by Jason Fried about how conflict can be a positive thing in the workplace. The article was so good that I clipped it and made a personal note to write about it one day, because much of his sage advice also applies to romantic relationships.

It should be noted that brute force, as a way of handling conflict, does work. Taking something from someone or shoving a perspective down someone’s throat can assuredly get you want you want…in the short term. But tempers will eventually flare, and good employees/lovers will leave, because you have made it clear that what they think, say and value doesn’t matter in the long run.

However, there are other, less-violent ways of managing conflict – strategies based on increased levels of communication, negotiation and commitment. And though they are undoubtedly critical skills for leaders, they also apply to the “Powerful Person in a Partnership.” Here’s how Fried’s advice applies to romantic partnerships:

  1. Get descriptive: Before calling what appears to be a disagreement a “disagreement,” consider the possibility that you both want the same thing (or close to it) but are communicating it in different ways. To get to the root of the issue, Fried suggests getting meticulously descriptive, even literally drawing a picture of what you are proposing – the plan or position, its merits and why it is important to you. He notes, “If we [do] a better job of defining our terms at the outset, there [will] be a lot less argument, stress and wasted time.” So, instead of getting angry, take some time to think about what you really want and why so that you can appeal to your mate with reason, rather than pure emotion.
  2. Take turns: If you still don’t see eye to eye, consider the “I’ve got this one, you get the next one” approach. Presumably, you are your partner are smart people and each are willing to concede that about the other. So, it is safe to say that whichever plan or idea you choose is rooted in sound judgment. If that is the case, why not take turns? Of course, this approach requires sharing a mutual respect for one another. If you don’t feel this way, it might be worth considering the partnership’s merits in the first place.
  3. Figure out who wants it more: It is unusual for two people to really want something in equal degrees – though that may appear to be the case if the real issue at hand is power. But when all of the cards are on the table and there are no hidden agendas, you can often sense who wants it most. If your partner wants it more, give it to him/her – knowing that you’ve got brownie points to cash in on next time something really matters to you. This strategy only works when both parties are sincere and communicate honestly.
  4. Prove your commitment: Have some fun while gauging how much each of you is willing to stand behind his/her ideas or initiatives. Create a playful-but-serious challenge to test your commitment. For instance, if you and your partner are discussing which of you gets to go to grad school first, you could say, “Whoever returns to school first will have to run a marathon if it doesn’t work out.” Presuming that neither of you regularly runs marathons, this playful solution would up the stakes when making the case for who wants it more.

None of these tips are prudent if you or your partner is an idiot, or believes the other to be. These strategies are for people who can let their egos ride from time to time – for the sake of keeping the peace (and friendship) in their relationships. If that’s you, conflict can be a good thing.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love
www.FrankLove.com

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Leave a Comment: Let Us Know Your Thoughts

How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship

9 Comments on “The Beauty of Conflict”

  1. Melissa Says:

    I love this article! I’ve found though – that people aren’t all that willing to get descriptive – which I love (personally and professionally) clarity is a WONDERFUL start to any conflict or discussion. When I think about how differently we all talk its amazing to me that I have “as many” great relationships as I do in my life.

  2. Jim Bouchard Says:

    Excellent perspective! I really appreciated the validation that brute force DOES sometimes work- it’s just not usually the best and very seldom should be the first option! 🙂

  3. Gloria Feldt Says:

    This looks like a great topic. I often speak on the value of embracing controversy and conflict in the realms of civic, political, and worklife–“The 7 C’s of Controversy and How to Make Them Work for You.” “Embrace Controversy is also one of the 9 Ways “power tools” I teach women how to use in my book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power. http://www.GloriaFeldt.com

    I love that you address the value of constructive conflict in personal relationships. I think it is a skill we all desperately need to learn.
    Best,

  4. marjorie farah franco barbosa Says:

    Sure, conflict often arise when people define thenselves in relationship.. We need to tell what we want or not, what we need or not. etc. Its very good because people may have the chance to be happy and also to grow. I think its the “beauty of conflict”

  5. Barb Geisel Says:

    Excellent advice for sure. Conflict can be good for a relationship. In business we say, “Problems are disguised opportunities.” It’s true in relationships as well. Conflict overcome allows us to grow together.

  6. Dr. Alpana Vaidya Says:

    Yes, Conflict has positive side as well provided it it healthy.

    It can lead to further growth and development.

  7. Khari Says:

    This is good stuff Frank. I appreciate that you are blogging about these topics. I think it’s important to understand that the majority of conflict, while rarely being divorced from some emotional occupation, stems from misunderstanding. Yes. It is true that conflict is sometimes necessary before there can be understanding. In order for understanding to prevail, however, people must suspend judgment to give understanding the opportunity to present itself. Even when both people desire to understand, it won’t be possible if they only know how to respond with knee-jerk reactions that lead to immediate alienation. Time is not of the essence… Time is the essence!

  8. HH Says:

    I think you make some excellent points here but your conclusion about the idots is what got to me. I think there are some other cases that would prevent one from applying these sound techniques. For example if your mate is a “child” sometimes and literally just throws a fit when you try to have a logical debate. I will say this, it is a two way street, I can be a child at times myself and in those times if someone tried to draw something during an argument, I would probably chew it up and spit it out literally! I think the one thing that is missing from this blog which everyone including me seems to agree is great, is that sometimes you love someone so much that they are the only ones that can reallly make you loose your mind and in that moment with that person, it is very hard to remember to do the things you mention above. I always tell people that if a stranger spits in my face, I will react, and knowing me the way I do, it will be very violently but it won’t hurt my feelings because i don’t know them from Adam so my reactions are strictly business based on where Im from and how I was raised, but no feelings are involved. But if a friend, or a family member were to do the same act of spitting in my face, the hurt feelings of them doing it might overwhelm me to silence, or no reaction at all and in that moment I would be unable to process the act logically! I rambling, I hope I made sense, anyway, great blog, great read and it stirred up a good discussion, keep up the good work…..

  9. Sheree Morgan Says:

    Absolutely if you are able to work through and overcome your conflict in your realtionships you actualy deepen the connection between your partner and yourself. Look at any long term friendships you have, it is the crap (as well as the good stuff) that you have shared and survived that connects and keeps you connected. Welcome the conclict it will give your relationship an opportunity to grow. You have to do the work to make it survive, but it is well worth it.

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