An Original Perspective on Waging Conflict as a Way to Promote and Restore Self-dignity

Conflict is a fact of life for all of us, but too many painful consequences are generated by avoiding or managing it in the wrong way. When we deal with everybody else day after day in any capacity as leaders or team managers, is inevitable that we will be personally confronted with conflict. Our jobs, our reputation and our own satisfaction level are contingent upon knowing a basic principle to understand interpersonal conflict. If you are a leader, you need to learn and apply this principle in all your interactions with people.

Concerning your original mindset, if you were growing in a family environment where conflict was seen at least as improper and at worst as a disgrace, you have learnt very early on to avoid it. It probably means that you will feel uncomfortable and scared by confrontations, and thus incapacitated to behave in a more balanced way. There is a simple principle that can help you view aggressive interactions through a new lens, and so help you to react in a more appropriate way.
In general, there is plenty of research that shows conflict as the point of confrontation between differing viewpoints. Since no two people view the world exactly the same way, disagreements are quite normal. In fact, anyone who agrees with you all of the time is probably telling you what you want to hear, not what he or she actually believes.

If we could separate logical from emotional aspects of conflict, it would be easier to deal with so many perceived differences. But the deep emotional roots of conflict ascribe different meanings to these differences, and being in any conflict also means to be risking some rejection, disapproval or love withdrawal, which is pretty emotionally painful.

Of course it is rather difficult to face these feelings, so rigid positions cover up anxiety and fear. We demand more and more when we are unable to face internal demands for recognition and support which, of course, are impossible to satisfy with requests for more money or concessions. Regardless, we continue pushing for more awards, making a win-lose victory an empty one.

So, here is the principle:

Recognize the hidden signals of fear of rejection, isolation and lack of recognition under the escalating aggressive behavior displayed in front of you. Learn how to address specifically this point, as fast as you can.

Quite often, unrecognized frustration can lead to violence and other kind of aggressive behavior, as the means to find necessary redress. When the hope to obtain some recognition through conflict escalation is lost, what survives is the one-upmanship of competition, which recognizes no bounds set on self or other-preservation. The only thing that matters then is winning at all costs.

Now, we are going to examine three main areas where conflicts occur: in interpersonal one-on-one relationships; in meetings; and in negotiations.
Although there are similarities between all of these areas, each one takes a slightly different slant depending on the setting where the conflict occurs. Let's take a look at each one in a little more detail and I will show you how to apply this principle.

Conflicts in interpersonal relationships

Sometimes in interpersonal relationships, such as those between you and one of your employees, or with a friend, there may be a conflict that you are not aware of. If someone who is normally upbeat and friendly toward you suddenly begins avoiding you or being silent or rude, there is usually a reason.

If the person has remained cheerful with everyone else except you, chances are you are dealing with a conflict situation. In these instances, you will want to address the problem by proceeding through the following steps.

• If you assume there is a problem, set up a private face-to-face meeting to discuss the problem with the other person.
• In a non-confrontational manner, ask the person if there is a problem. If his/her answer is "No", inform the person that you value so much the relationship that you will keep asking the question, because you've noticed the behavioral change. Don't go beyond this to assume that you know what the problem is, but let the person explain it, from his/her perspective.
• As you talk, ask for feedback: Am I right on this? Do not defend yourself, by "attacking" the other person with accusations, but listen with an open mind.
• Be sure to listen carefully and show respect for his opinion! Otherwise, you will lose all credibility.
• Take a few minutes to recycle the other person's opinions in your mind, and identify where his comments are right, according to her point of view: why the person experienced the situation as she did.
• The most gracious way out is not to self-defend, or explain or rationalize, but to thank for his/her input.

Now, invite a discussion on the best solution for both sides. "What do you think we could do?"

Conflicts in workplace meetings

Conflicts flaring in the open, in opportunities like meetings can be very disruptive. But they can also be very helpful, if you are prepared and don't take them as a public opportunity for humiliation. Remember, conflicts are disagreements of opinions, with an emotional component included.

The person disagreeing with you is probably raising valid questions, and it may benefit the group to address the issues they are presenting.

In fact, by listening to them, you may gain valuable insight into what is and what is not working within your organization. Remember that everybody is watching you, so be gracious: appreciate the feedback and ignore the form.

However, when the person continues past the point of disagreement to the point of disruptiveness, it only means that albeit you have identified the logical aspect of the difference, and addressed it, emotional factors are still lingering on.
This person has not received enough confirmation or recognition from you perhaps in other opportunities, and this meeting is another of them.
He is demanding now that this provision of recognition be made in a public setting, by confronting you. What can be done to address this specific kind of confrontation requires an honest assessment of your own leadership capacity, and some fast strategic changes.

Find in yourself the answers to some questions, as:
Can you, publicly, find the "grain of truth" in the other person's position and acknowledge it? Can you find areas of agreement between the two positions, and reframe in such a way that both positions are equally included and valued?
Can you invite this person to a compromise by including him into further decision-making processes? And, ahead in time, can you keep this person near you by inviting him/her to share his concerns with you in private?

The assumption that "meetings can get out of control," is no longer valid, if you know how to manage confrontations for what they are: a demand for your attention as the person who can validate, support and affirm a person's value.

Conflicts in negotiations

Negotiations are ways to find a middle point or a compromise when there is a difference in appreciations. When you are negotiating with your clients, vendors, or even your employees, it is important to always keep in mind the idea that both parties need to find a Win/Win situation, where both feel respected and appreciated by the other. No one wants to feel like they are giving away something for nothing, because it means that were taken advantage of and that impinges on their self-esteem.

In fact, most conflicts develop, according to our principle, because of one party's perception of being slighted, humiliated or taken advantage of.
In order to avoid these types of situations, there are certain ideas you can apply to increase your chances of a successful negotiation.

• Show appreciation and respect for the other person and his ideas. Avoid any negative or diminishing comment.
• From the beginning, be always the proponent of a courteous, clean process. Don't push or hurry the process, but give time for ideas and interaction to develop.
• Even when your perception tells you that you've been attacked, you can always choose to deny that. Stop cycles of defend-attack immediately, because they are non-productive and escalate fast!
• Try to understand the other person's perspective: communication is more than just listening; try to see their perspective as clearly as yours.
• Check your understanding and summarize often so both sides are always on the same page. Reframe the problem including both perspectives.
• If the matter is not a big concern for you, invite the other person to offer his solution first. Include his ideas with yours when presenting your own proposition.

Managing conflict is not repressing or controlling it, but identifying the hidden needs for recognition that promote the confrontation, and addressing them fast.

You can see more applications of this Positive Conflict Principle in the e-book: "The Art of Positive Conflicts: Transforming Confrontations into Harmony," at

Author's Bio: 

Nora Femenia, Ph.D. in Conflict Resolution, is President & CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions, an international firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which provides conflict resolution interventions and conflict resolutions skills training at all levels, from inter-personal to international disputes. Dr. Nora Femenia is Associate Faculty at Florida International University’s Labor Center, and past Associate Faculty at the School for International Training, at the Conflict Transformation Masters Program.

She has a B. A in Social Psychology completed in Argentina, a Masters in Social Sciences by FLACSO, and finished her post graduate, Ph.D. level studies at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, (Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts), Syracuse University, NY. While doing her dissertation work in Washington DC, she was granted a Peace Scholarship from the United States Institute of Peace, where she received additional training in international conflict resolution interventions by working with field leaders.

She is a very active consultant for several Chambers of Commerce and their Mediation/Arbitration Services Department in Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Spain and Mexico.

She delivers coaching in conflict resolution methods and mediation interventions for individuals and diverse organizations in the US and abroad. She also teaches online mediation and conflict resolution methods courses to international students in English and Spanish. Her personal approach on Positive Conflicts framing has been recognized as a new development able to transform interpersonal conflicts in a fast and powerful way.