What is Conflict Communication? Simply Stated – communicating conflicts with consciousness.
When we are able to honestly, respectfully and confidently engage with those we are in conflict with through engaged listening, healthy expressing, understanding and finding creative, dignified and honorable ways to build bridges, deepen relationships and encourage growth from within and without, then we have communicated a conflict with consciousness.
It is valuable to understand about conflict itself before we can consider the effectiveness of Conflict Communication.
Conflict occurs when there is a disagreement or a struggle - the intensity and magnitude will be different for every situation. The disagreement could be between a couple, siblings, parent-child, work colleagues, family, friends, neighbours, teams at work, communities or even countries. The struggle could also be within. Conflicts are multi-dimensional, and layered with difficult and often overwhelming emotions such as fear, anger, hurt, guilt, anxiety and despair just to name a few. Emotions that most people are never really equipped to manage, channel and express appropriately. Emotions so powerful that without realising it, we eventually embody the conflict in every cell, and the anger or fear becomes a way of being. Some people bury it all so deeply that they eventually become ill. Even if we resolve the conflict with our minds, and “on paper” with traditional conflict or dispute resolution techniques, it is never truly resolved until we break it down and work with the conflict and ourselves holistically.
The result of these powerful, overwhelming and unmanaged emotions can be devastating to say the least. Conflict does not necessarily result in or involve an argument or a fight. It could result in people becoming hostile and outwardly aggressive by shouting, screaming, threatening, bullying, verbal, emotional or physical abuse. However, there is a silent and deadly flipside, whereby the conflict could be turned inward and result in someone becoming passively aggressive through going silent, ignoring, sulking, manipulating or trying to suppress and pretend the conflict does not exist. This internalising of the conflict can result in lower back pains, digestive disorders, body pain, anxiety, depression, migraines or endocrine or even heart problems, to name a few. These behaviours are just a few signs that the people involved in the conflict simply do not possess the skills to handle it, or they are not interested in finding a collaborative way forward. It can reduce one’s vitality and zest for life, increase absenteeism and decrease productivity in the workplace.
We all have a choice as to whether a conflict will strengthen or weaken a relationship. In the words of M. Esther Harding, "Conflict is the beginning of consciousness."
In its most basic form, Conflict Communication is the art of being able to calm, defuse, and release the high levels of toxic emotion enmeshing the conflict, laying the facts bare from all the people concerned, and searching for a collaborative and constructive way forward.
Many conflict resolution strategies adequately address what the conflict is about, as well as what people think about the conflict. But very few effectively address what people feel on both a physical and emotional level. Thus, conflicts are “resolved” on paper but are never truly put to peace.
If the parties concerned are still holding on to feelings of anger, revenge, resentment, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame or just generally feeling unsettled – they are still very much in the Red Zone of the conflict and it will simply manifest into something bigger which could be dumped somewhere else.