Is all conflict healthy? Should I always embrace it?

 In Conflict management training

Is all conflict healthy? Should I always embrace it?

I don’t really know who came up with this idea but I see it everywhere! Conflict is inevitable and has the power to change us and our relationships for the better. Avoiding certain conflicts can cause way more harm than good and can escalate situations that otherwise could have been dealt with.

That being said, do I think all conflict is healthy and should always be embraced? No.

To me it is not necessarily what the conflict is about that is bad, but the way that people are going about dealing and engaging with it (and with each other) that is unhealthy.

Two key factors needed in conflict management are TRUST and SAFETY.

Every person has the right to disengage when they no longer feel safe and able to do so (I am referring to personal safety and also feelings of activation that no longer feel tolerable). When that happens, the focus should shift to recreating that safety and trust before moving back to resolution. This is why boundaries are a necessary part of healthy conflict management. When someone determines that they need to disengage, that is a boundary they are noticing and/or setting. Another type of boundary setting in conflict is determining how you are going to engage and the guidelines that will be put in place in order to maintain that level of safety and trust (think of the who, what,where, when, why, hows).

One of the biggest red flags that you might be engaging in unhealthy conflict is when there are no boundaries in place or expected, and when boundaries are consistently ignored and crossed.

  • Unhealthy conflict is conflict with people who are abusing you or who are diminishing your humanity.
  • Unhealthy conflict is a circular conflict with a party who refuses to take responsibility and accountability for their behaviour.
  • Unhealthy conflict is one sided, where one person is doing all the labour.
  • Unhealthy conflict is when you feel like you have to cross all your own personal boundaries for the other party to engage.
  • Unhealthy conflict is conflict you have continuously try to address and negotiate without seeing any change.

In these situations boundaries are often not properly negotiated or if they are, they are ignored or undermined.

So what should you do in the case of unhealthy conflict?

These conflicts are not forever unresolvable but they need serious pause and reassessment. If you notice you can’t have boundaries in a conflict or that the boundaries you state are continuously denied or undermined, that is a signal that this may not be a conflict you should ‘embrace’.

This might be a situation when external support is needed to contain, de-escalate or resolve the situation. Or it might be a situation that you just need to get out of and prioritize your own safety and wellbeing. Sometimes de-escalation is leaving the situation. Sometimes resolution can’t happen right now, sometimes not ever. That doesn’t make you bad at conflict resolution or a failure for not engaging. Conflict involves more than one party and both need to be willing to negotiate respectfully or resolution isn’t possible.

I always say, conflict management isn’t about ‘winning’. Sometimes the best thing we can do is leave and maybe try again later (or never!).

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