The Only Unwinnable Conflict Worth Trying to Win
Bill Cottringer

“There is one conflict that will never go away until we either figure out how to communicate past it or die trying. This conflict involves arguing for the beliefs and truths we are most certain about.” ~The Author.

In every relationship there comes a deadly conflict. This ultimate conflict has the sole ability to define us and lift us to a better place, or throw us back a few hundred miles in a dessert full of worse conflicts coming towards us with vengeance. Such a conflict usually involves two people, equally needing their perceptions, beliefs and truths about something important to them to be more correct and complete than the other person. Such a conflict doesn’t have an easy solution because there is no standard to determine who is more right or wrong in the situation, when in reality both may be a little right and a little wrong.

Let’s take a few examples that are often divorce-or unemployment-precipitating conflicts:

Example 1:

Wife: “You don’t really love me or you would support me more emotionally.”

Husband: “You don’t really love me or you would try harder to accept me as I am, rather than the way you want me to be.”

Example 2:

Employer: “You are not using the sales processes I used to build this successful real estate business and we are losing money because of that.

Employee: The market has changed dramatically and I am trying new processes that other colleagues have used to bring about huge successes for their companies.”

Or the conflict could be spiritual in nature:

Smith: Since you don’t believe in God or an afterlife, you give yourself permission to behave anyway you want to even when it hurts others.

Jones: You do believe in God and the afterlife, and still hurt people.

And still yet the conflict could be about a perspective on how to win a sporting contest:

Coach: “If you would concentrate on eliminating the mistakes you made last time, the next game will go our way.”

Athlete: “I think you just need to change your approach to me to get better results by showing me how to do something better.”

Now, even if you supply a third party independent mediator in these situations, how in the world would you possibly determine who is right and who is wrong and subsequently come up with the best solution? You can’t, is the realistic answer. And that is because these types of conflicts are most likely based on years of inaccurate or incomplete perceptions that are set in emotional concrete as a completely justified belief in the truth of something, way beyond any reasonable doubt.

This process usually continues and reinforces itself, eventually becoming almost impervious to change. That is because only first-hand failure with the un-truth and lack of value of a belief, is the only way it gets brought into question, and even then the self-benefiting truth is re-established more often than not. We learned this the hard way with showing smokers the firsthand damage that cigarettes caused to their lungs with real time biofeedback technology several decades ago and the smoking-cancer problem still persists.

Without having the good fortune of a firsthand failure experience to change our faulty beliefs, there is an alternative suggested much earlier by the psychologist Jack Gibb. This alternative solution is called supportive communication which is the anecdote to the type of communication that brings about defensiveness—with “shields up and weapons drawn to speak a war mentality to non-war issues.”

To resolve such unwinnable conflicts, the two people have to “give into” a more hopeful perspective that if they are willing and have the courage to try and communicate better to understand and get past the conflict deadlock to the other side, they will both feel better and be in a much better place of personal and professional growth. This is always the result from such willingness and emotional courage.

With this type of commitment and fundamental agreement, the unwinnable conflict becomes winnable with both people convening their thoughts and feelings about their perceptions and beliefs, in such a way that supports the relationship and avoids the typical flavor that creates the unwanted, unproductive defensiveness that stops communication and raises the temperature of the conflcit, including:

• Evaluation or judgment vs. acceptance and understanding.
• Over-certainty vs. reasonable tentativeness.
• Manipulative strategy vs. healthy spontaneity.
• Insensitivity or neutrality vs. empathy.
• Superiority vs. equality.
• Over-control vs. freedom.

Communicating in a supportive manner is the best known way to understand and correct faulty perceptions that too often become permanent, unchallengeable beliefs, mainly getting the person to be more open, listen and consider others’ different perspectives, by doing the same yourself.

“Arguing beliefs is just another way of saying you don’t have a right to believe, which we all know is obviously absurd, so why bother?” ~The author.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living on the scenic Snoqualmie River and mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing), The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press), You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence), The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree), Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers), Reality Repair, (Global Vision Press), and Reality Repair Rx (Publish America) Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067 or