One sure-fire way to create stress is to mismanage conflict.

One of my colleagues, a therapist named Jim, shared an interesting case. A teenage boy was referred for counseling by his school, because he was getting into fist fights almost daily. He had been suspended many times and was about to be expelled.

Jim asked the boy, “Don’t you think there are ways of settling problems without fighting?” The boy said, “No. Everybody fights.” Despite Jim’s efforts to convince the boy that wasn’t true, the kid wouldn’t believe it. Apparently in his family, it was true. Fighting as a means to settling a conflict was normal.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the avoiders: people who will do almost anything to get out of facing a conflict. Difficult situations are swept under the rug, and the tension piles up, eventually erupting and making matters worse.

In some cultures fighting is a way of proving one’s manhood; it’s not always based on hatred or anger, as much as it is a rite of passage. Boys fight to see who’s stronger. Even if you lose, if you put up a good fight and prove your courage, you get respect. And after the fight is over, the boys may become close friends.

Fighting may look like a direct way of handling a conflict, as compared to running or hiding. But does fighting actually resolve anything, other than proving one person to be dominant?

You may be wondering whether you could stand to manage conflict more effectively. In my workshops I’ve used animal images to describe conflict management styles. Let’s look at them and see if you recognize yourself as one of these characters.

The Shark – aggressive, not interested in working things out, no concern for the other person
The Turtle – afraid and won’t come out until the smoke has cleared
The Teddy Bear – An avoider like the Turtle, but the goal is “can’t we all just get along?”, no interest in resolving anything.
The Magpie – Making a lot of noise or cracking jokes – an effective way to avoid conflict
The Fox – Shrewd and clever, thinks about making deals to resolve the conflict
The Wise Old Owl – Better than the Fox, is interested in resolving the conflict and fostering a long-lasting relationship that will help prevent future conflicts.

The first step in improving your ability to handle conflict is to look honestly at your conflict management style. Notice how your style contributes to problems in a relationship or in a workplace or school situation. If your way of mismanaging conflict is costing you more than you like, do you wonder whether this is just how things are? Are you aware that you really can get better at working through conflict? Most people might not even consider that could be true. But the fact is …

Conflict resolution skills can be learned! I’ve been teaching it since 2004, and have seen people learn to handle conflict, after many years of getting it wrong. You can succeed, just as they did. And I will prove it to you, if you reach out for a free consultation by calling 219-309-3928.

Thanks for reading!