Those that know me know that there is nothing I enjoy more than a good debate. About politics, religion, money. You name the taboo subject, I will enjoy watching or participating in a debate on it.

Debates are fab – two or more people with differing perspectives on a subject getting together and being allowed to put forward their point of view, just to each other or to an audience. Everyone gets a voice.

Conflict is what happens when the unwritten rules of debating are broken. These rules are, in my opinion, based around respect for the other participants, integrity and open communication.

When debate is stifled, conflict arises.

As children, when negotiating with our friends for the use of a toy, we are learning about give and take, a debate of sorts, negotiation. When one child stands up and nags the toy on the other kid’s head and runs off with it, she has stifled this negotiation. Conflict has arisen, albeit briefly, and a life’s lesson is learned.

At the other end of the scale, but, in my opinion, quite similar all things considered, we have the politicians at the top of society who, instead of debating, hurl insults rather than toys. And what happens? Conflict, stand offs, distrust, even war.

There is a big leap from squabbling toddlers to politicians. In any walk of life we face conflict every single day. With our spouses, our children, parents at the school gate, colleagues, siblings. It happens all the time.

I have an example from this very week, where I felt that a reasonable debate had turned nasty. My voice was being stifled. My interlocutor accused me of doing the same. And I decided to take a step back, and work out how I, as a conflict avoider, had got into a position of attack. Yes, we ended up both being on the attack. (Don’t worry, this was a gentle war of words, nothing more.) So I walked away, had a coffee with a friend, and then thought about how two reasonable people had got into a situation with no reasonable outcome.

Then I looked at other conflicts in which I have been involved. Conflicts where if one or both parties had been reasonable from the outset and gone for a win-win outcome, things could have been different.

Have a look at the people you come into conflict with. Don’t say you don’t, everyone does, even the most even headed of us. What turns your debates into a conflict? Step back and go through the scene from the outside – as a neutral onlooker. Was it the words one of you used? The tone of voice? The body language? Rolling your eyes or raising your eyebrows?

Remember though that you have no control of what other people do and how they behave. Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid conflict. But just from your side, how do you think you could improve relationships where there is conflict?

Conflict leads to us losing our voices (I mean metaphorically, though after a proper row I am sure many us have thought we would actually lose our voice). It reduces us to the age old strength vs weakness conflict – be that words, physical strength, intelligence, whatever.

What can we each change, as individuals, so we can finally say, “Oi! Conflict! Do one!” ?

Wouldn’t that be lovely, and constructive and just a whole lot more pleasant for everyone?

I think so.

Image courtesy of Piyaphon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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