Bad Responses to Conflict

Given that conflict is such an inevitable part of life, the answer to its appearance would seem clear-cut: Handle the conflict the way you would in every other part of life. Trouble is, there are too many people who try to avoid discord.

Fear and Anger

There is no single reason why people dodge conflict. Some subconsciously remember experiences from their youth and shy away from negative situations. Others might find that they get angry and cannot deal rationally with circumstances, or that they are flustered and unsure of how to resolve a problem. Perhaps other people seem to be aggressive, more powerful, and intent on having their way. Specifics change, but there are always two underlying emotions when people face conflict, and each one gives rise to one common set of reactions. The first is fear that can grow to terror when unchecked. This emotion spurs lying, hiding from reality, and other avoidance mechanisms.

The other emotion is anger. That is natural, as the two have been tied together for as long as the human race has existed. The product could be such things as egoism, aggressive behavior, and inflexibility.

It is a mistake to think that people feel either fear or anger exclusively. Anyone emotionally reacting to conflict will experience both feelings. The proportions of each will vary, and an individual might lean toward one end of the spectrum or the other, but both will exist. That is why, for example, some people who seem outwardly passive have simply suppressed their anger and express it in backhanded ways — the condition that many call passive aggression.

People Remain Victims

The problem for most people is that they are trapped within this meeting of fear and anger. They react blindly — that is to say, they don't see what is happening in themselves and fail to understand how it affects their relationship to the world. In short, they are victims. Those who don't learn to rise above their reactions will find themselves victims of their own natures every time they encounter conflict.

Breaking Free

We know that conflict is a mainstay of existence and, therefore, it will be part of any team experience. Match that with the reluctant understanding that most of us are uncomfortable, at least part of the time, with any form of discord, and the prospects are bleak for the smooth and effective operation of your team.

Your only choice is to handle the inevitable conflict in a productive way and to help your team members do the same. The place to start is at the beginning of conflict. Understand the nature of the conflict and the benefit it can actually provide.

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