Some people seem to thrive on conflict, seeking it in the tiniest of causes, heaping on catalysts like vodka on a bonfire. Others make a big thing of despising it, preferring to spread it out over time passively and with sniffy comments. Any extreme is always questionable in managing relationships so some sort of sliding scale between the two can have an enormous impact on your social skills and personal outcomes. Those that thrive on conflict tend to make things worse, those that despise it, ultimately do the same thing. The same reaction every time can equally land poor results so a context specific approach to managing difficult moments in your personal relationships is the order of the day. Here are 6 questions to ask yourself that will help you manage conflict on the fly and get the right result with all the anger and without dragging it out like a wedding speech when the buffets not ready.
Question One: Where do you want your relationship with this person to be in the future?
If this is someone you’re likely not going to see again then you might well take a different approach to someone you’re forced to carpool with every day. Do you have the kind of relationship where you can argue then meet in the pub afterwards? Is this going to cause a grudge? If your relationship is well developed then it’s naturally more robust than a new one and social status can complicate things further such as who has rank in this situation. Fond of arguing with your boss? Be prepared to get passed over for promotion.
Question Two: How Far are you Prepared to Go to Win?
Some people will do anything to score a point and it’s rare that they get away with that for long before people call them out. It’s incredibly antisocial of course but in a short term exchange, the tension, heightened emotion and urgency may make you want lie, cheat, over-exaggerate and insult. The latter, what’s known as an Ad Hominem argument, could well derail someone enough for you to feel like you’ve made some sort of point but there’s ALWAYS a cost. Your moral compass is your own of course but patterns of behaviour or strong early encounters can really label you for a long time. If you really want to be the person that attacks personal characteristics when a disagreement arises then I’m sure Twitter will welcome you with open arms but stay out of my circle.
Question Three: Do You Currently Have the Emotional, Intellectual our Physical Resources to Win?
It’s easy to see in a physical conflict that if you pick a fight with the guy who’s just sat down next to your partner and when he gets up he keeps on rising past the top of your head like a beanstalk on steroids that you’ve probably not made the best choice. It’s harder to see with other kinds of personal energy resources and you really need to be aware of your current mental and emotional state. Some people are naturally resilient and stable; they can have arguments all day and never once second guess themselves, feel drained or give-in. Others find every moment of a disagreement exhausting and have to be self-aware if they want to ensure their own well-being doesn’t suffer. In personality terms this is related to introversion/extraversion (the way you related to others and the energy resources used for those interactions) and Neuroticism or emotional stability. You know yourself best so with that in mind and knowing what you know about the here-and-now of your situation, is this the right time to be pursuing conflict or is an early exit advisable?
Question Four: Do You Need to Win?
In an episode of the classic sitcom Father Ted, Father Douglas is convinced that a squeaky dog toy in the shape of a phone is in fact a real phone. Father Ted, frustrated at his inability to see the obvious argues back with him. Father Douglas is unconvinced: “We’ll agree to differ, alright?” He says. “No we wont agree to differ because you’re very very wrong!” Replies a raging Ted. Recognise it? Sometimes it’s hard to let go if we know we’re right but sometimes that’s just what has to happen if you want to walk away and spend your time on something more useful or pleasant. Just like Ted we cling on and our anger washes us away. you know the truth after all, so why not let them have there’s? First of all, how do you know absolutely 100% that you’re right? Is there the slightest possibility you could be mistaken or that the other person has the right idea? Secondly, emotional arguments CANNOT be won by logic. If you’re manoeuvred into a feelings-based position then the argument is already both won and lost.
At least I won you’ll be thinking, in and around the ruins of your life.
Question Five: How Will You Know if You’ve Won?
What does victory actually look like to you? Imagine a field of actual battle strewn with corpses and a lone king wanders through the piles of decaying flesh and the groans of the agonised. The King is the last man standing in his new kingdom of the dead. I won he thinks. sometimes people will surrender and simply cave in. Is that a victory? Depends, what did it cost you to get there? Are they just saying they agree to end the conflict? What are the actions that will result? Will he leave you? Will she put your name to the top of the redundancy list? At least I won you’ll be thinking, in and around the ruins of your life.
Question Six: What are the Consequences of Losing?
Pride can be a powerful motivator. People will argue about the smallest of things – did that film star Vin Diesel or Jason Statham? Were Blur or Oasis better? Should that have been offside? Ultimately it doesn’t change anything, it has no impact on life, the tiniest proportion of people in the world know what you’re talking about, let alone care, and yet we’ll lose friends for the right to say we had the victory. If you get into an argument online with someone that disagrees with you politically, you’ll be called a nazi or a libtard soon enough. Are you going to respond? Does this mean they’ve won or lost? By not replying are you handing them the win? What if you do? For someone to call you a nazi for suggesting that sometimes immigration needs to be controlled or a libtard for daring to suggest that healthcare should be free in any society that can afford it, do you think for a moment that their opinion actually matters or can be changed. Know when its time to walk away and you can improve your life immeasurably.
None of these questions will solve your personal day to day conflict crises or guarantee a win in every argument but they can get you to consider some more options. By applying a little dash of rationality and a couple of tools like these, you can get a sense of control back – not necessarily the kind of control that gets others to fall in line with your way of thinking but the sort of control that says, win or lose, that you took your own decisions and your own psychological wellbeing was the ultimate winner.