Why We Suck at Conflict

Most people know the “right” way to approach other people. When sitting down, with a clear head and no immediate pressure, most people can come up with a way to have a conversation or even address something tricky that will likely lead to a good outcome. On paper.

In practice, however, it’s a totally different situation. People get into arguments about the simplest of ideas and relationships are broken down over issues that should, with clearer heads, be easily reconciled.

With a little training, perhaps some suggestions from a good book, or some help from a friend, figuring out how to navigate a conflict is often not that difficult of a task. There is no shortage of good advice and scientifically backed strategies for dealing with conflict.

There is, however, a huge shortage in practice. We are so trained to avoid conflict, and to find comfort, that we ignore opportunities to get better at handling it in an effective manner. In our constant hope that we won’t have to deal with it, we miss the chance to prepare for it and perhaps become more effective at it.

The brain works very much like the muscles in your body. If you use them, build them purposely, and give them challenges on a consistent basis, they become much more flexible, strong, and able to deal with the “stress” of physical challenges.

The regions of your brain needed to effectively deal with conflict work in a similar manner. If the Lymbic System experiences healthy conflict (mutual respect, objective, and non-personal, etc.) on a consistent basis, it sort of builds the muscle in your head that says “hey, we are going to live through this so we likely don’t need to go into freak-out mode and say stupid things.” Which is a good thing to develop, cause the Lymbic system is excellent at creating the short-sighted responses that make us so bad at healthy conflict.

Simply knowing how to deal with conflict is not enough, just like knowing how to lift weights doesn’t magically make you stronger. We suck at conflict because we don’t practice. We avoid the smaller differences and are surprised when our brain does not have the built in strength to deal with the bigger issues.

If you don’t want to be bad at it, you have to practice it. The little battles, the smaller disagreements, or, if you really want to get a proper work-out, practice having a mock argument over a real issue with someone on a consistent basis. We only suck at it because we don’t do it. It’s not a lack of ability as much as a lack of effort.

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