Conflict as defined by Merriam-Webster: mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands
I made the mistake of allowing myself to get sucked into a discussion on Facebook about the Orlando nightclub attack and gun control. More specifically, the original post was a question as to how a terrorist attack was being turned into a debate about gun control. I should have known better than to get involved, because the outcome is always the same. There really is no honest discussion; it quickly becomes polarized, a black and white debate of absolutes.
I don’t want to debate the issue here, but rather talk about the struggle of being able to engage in difficult conversations on sensitive issues. Several years ago I took a class on critical thinking. We learned about the different ways people deflect arguments and we were challenged to write persuasive arguments on various topics. More recently I attended a few workshops on conflict management. What these have in common is that they highlighted an underlying problem–most people don’t listen to what the other side is saying. Instead of listening to what the other side is saying, they are formulating their response. They are just trying to win. You could make a valid, factual point and their response would be, “yeah, but…” and they shift the argument and try to turn it back around. It’s all about standing their ground and winning.
I personally fall into the avoidance category when it comes to conflict style. I don’t like conflict, but what I realized after the workshop was that it’s not that I don’t like discussing hot topics; I do. It’s that I don’t like the aggressive behaviors that often are displayed during conflict. Any sign of hostility and I shut down. This is a struggle for me in that there are times when I feel very strongly about something or I want to correct a factual error that someone has made, but I don’t want the conflict.
But what if we look at conflict as an opportunity for finding common ground rather than who is right and who is wrong? What if we look at conflict as a chance to learn something about the other point of view rather than refusing to consider it? What if before we start formulating our responses, we stop and actually listen to what the other person is saying? What if instead of looking at issues as being black or white, we concede that there is often a lot of grey area? What if we stop insisting the answer has to be either-or, but rather we consider this and that as possibilities?