I often have a lot to say about conflict because so many people have so much of it! One key to reducing conflict (even though it is not always within our control) is to consider what we are feeling when internal tensions rise.
Parents might, for example, yell at their kids on the basis that they are misbehaving and resisting correction, but can occasionally feel an internal angst over their apparent loss of control of their kids. People can feel angry at their boss or team leader at work, but understandably feel greater tension over any thought of addressing problems or differences of opinion. Similarly, people leave churches because God “told them to”, when in actual fact they have problems with leadership decisions or friendship groups that have never been discussed or properly worked through. Conflict with extended family members, too, might be wallpapered over at Christmas-lunches in the interests of maintaining an artificial harmony.
People who react outwardly can sometimes be difficult, but their issues generally come out into the open quickly. For others, explosion point may not seem to be reached externally, but the inner fuming can ‘boil down’ to a problem with honesty. Of course, we need to be careful how we address problems and in what context, but many people struggle to talk about their inner turmoil with the right people. Bouncing off people who care enough to objectively assess a situation and who will challenge a wrong attitude is extremely helpful, but staying objective when we’re steamed up is easier said than done. The trick is in identifying the loss of inner peace and dealing with it as quickly and proactively as possible. When this is addressed, it becomes easier for another person to focus on the feelings, bring them into focus and to offer constructive solutions, before emotion obscures perspective.
In the end, staying cool inside needs us to speak to the people with whom we have problems in a way where we can stay cool on the outside. To be honest with ourselves, then with helpful advisors who are solution-focused, and then with the people we need to speak to, requires an intentional decision to speak when we don’t want to and then to surrender the control of outcomes when we have done all we can do. In the end, our wellbeing and forward progress can never be allowed to ultimately depend on others’ responses to us, otherwise we set ourselves up for disappointment and for the harbouring of offence which is the ultimate slow poisoning within.
Finally, for those who simply cannot speak to others, can I suggest that journalling frustrations can be a helpful way of getting some perspective on what is hard to communicate? I’d still be looking for that one or two people who are a healthy influence, but writing can release tension, bridge the gap in clarifying what the issues are, and allow us to analyse what we need to see once the initial dust settles.