Alternative Definitions of Conflict

Some months back, Code Hale mentioned the book Mediating Dangerously: The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution by Kenneth Cloke. I’ve ever so glad he did, as the book has given me a life-changing perspective on the nature of conflict and how to address it. One of the most profound things I learned from the book is a a set of alternate definitions of conflict.

In the book, Cloke says

“Most people think of conflicts as disagreements based on difference over what they think, feel, or want. Yet most arguments have little or nothing to do with the issues over which people battled.”

Understanding these alternative sources of conflict and being able to identify which applies to a given situation is of paramount importance because: “each calls for a different set of strategies to prove the inner logic of the dispute and a different set of questions to elicit honest and empathy.” Because each type of conflict requires a different strategy and set of questions, you won’t know which to employ until you’ve identified the true source of the dispute. Once you have identified the source, you can choose a more appropriate and targeted approach to resolving the conflict.

Here’s the list:

  • Conflict represents a lack of awareness of the imminence of death or sudden catastrophe.
  • Conflict arises wherever there is a failure of connection, collaboration, or community; an inability to understand our essential interconnectedness and the universal beauty of the human spirit.
  • Conflict is a lack of acceptance of ourselves that we have projected onto others, a way of blaming others for what we perceive as failures in our own lives. It reveals a need to hide behind roles or masks that do not reflect our authentic feelings so we can divert attention from our mistakes.
  • Conflict represents a boundary violation, a failure to value or recognize our own integrity or the personal space of others.
  • Conflict is a way of getting attention, acknowledgement, sympathy, or support by casting ourselves as the victim of some evil-doer.
  • Conflict represents a lack of skill or experience at being able to handle a certain kind of behavior.
  • Conflict is often simply the continued pursuit of our own false expectations, the desire to hold on to our unrealistic fantasies.
  • Conflict represents a lack of listening, a failure to appreciate the subtlety in what someone else is saying.
  • Conflict is often a result of secrets, concealments, confusions, conflicting messages, cover-ups, and what we have failed to communicate.
  • Conflict represents a lack of skill, effectiveness, or clarity in saying what we feel, think, or want.
  • Conflict is a way of opposing someone who represents a parent with whom we have not yet resolved our relationships.
  • Conflict is the sound made by the cracks in a system, the manifestation of contradictory forces coexisting in a single space.
  • Conflict is the voice of a new paradigm, a demand for change in a system that has outlived its usefulness.
  • Conflict represents an inability to grieve or say goodbye, a refusal to let go of something that is dead or dying.
  • Conflict is a way of being negatively intimate when positive intimacy becomes impossible.
  • Conflict is the expression of one-half of a paradox, enigma, duality, polarity, or contradiction.
  • Conflict is often a fearful interpretation of difference, diversity, and opposition, which ignores the essential role of polarity in creating unity, balance, and symbiosis.
  • Conflict is a result of our inability to learn from our past mistakes, our failure to recognize them as opportunities for growth, learning, and improved understanding.

 

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