Approach to Conflict
©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Conflict happens everywhere and is will likely always be around on this planet. When engaged in by brains that are balanced and functional, conflict can move individuals and organizations to collaboration, consensus, and compromise.
Conflict is also expensive, if not lethal, especially when mismanaged or unresolved.
- In the home it contributes to: illness, stress, violence, addictions, divorce, murder....
- In churches it decreases spirituality, burns out teachers and clergy, triggers misunderstandings, and can result in decreased attendance if not outright anger....
- In the workplace, the US State News August 19, 2006 reported: managers spend 18% of their time managing employee conflicts. This estimated percentage doubled since 1996.
Following are stereotypical examples of the way in which individuals tend to approach conflict based on brain bent.
Brains with a bent in the Prioritizing division are often the most comfortable with conflict and indeed may initiate it. They tend to view conflict as a necessary part of negotiations in life (professional as well as personal), to attain their goals and to be successful. If also extroverted, they may perceive conflict as stimulating, competitive, and challenging fun. However, their approach to conflict may be perceived by others as argumentative, non-sympathetic or non-empathetic, and more concerned with the bottom line or being in charge or winning. They may appear to run rough-shod over harmonizing concerns and be oblivious to feelings of others. Being diagonal from the Harmonizing division, they may miss how uncomfortable individuals with a brain bent in one of the right hemisphere divisions can be with conflict. They can learn to pay attention and develop skills of empathizing and collaboration, if they choose to do so.
Brains with a bent in the Envisioning division do not like conflict, rarely seek it, and tend to avoid it when possible. They may be perceived as conflict adverse unless and until they become passionately involved with an issue and then they may be willing to engage in conflict and ‘crusade’ for a short time in an effort to help resolve the issue. When pushed sufficiently, they may try one or more problem-solving attempts. If these do not resolve the conflict situation, they may distance themselves emotionally from the conflict situation and eventually withdraw and isolate, or physically leave the conflict situation, environment, or even the relationship. They can learn skills to help them address and negotiate conflict more successfully—if they choose to do so—but it will likely not be anything they gravitate toward if there is another choice. Because the right frontal lobe contains functions of intuition and of ‘seeing the big picture,’ their ideas are often ahead of the rest of the group and they may find it discouraging when their vision isn’t even recognized by other brains.
Brains with a bent in the Maintaining division don't enjoy conflict and tend to be slow to engage in conflict situations. They may choose to be involved when they are trying to maintain the status quo or if they become strongly opinionated about something, especially if they believe the conflict will result in fairer practices. For example, they may vote to ‘strike’ when workers and management disagree, perceiving this as a tool to resolve the conflict. When involved in a conflict situation, they are likely to invoke rules and regulations or legislation in an attempt to resolve the issues. If the conflict doesn’t resolve quickly and easily, they may just dig in their heels and wait, hoping that if enough time goes by they can get the outcome they desire. They can learn to negotiate and to reach consensus through compromise, understanding that compromise works for the group but rarely works well for each individual brain. There are times when compromise beats continued conflict.
Brains with a bent in the Harmonizing division dislike conflict the most and will do almost anything to avoid it. They may over-comply, over-conform, and even violate conscience and their own moral or ethical judgements at times to resolve the conflict or make it go away—often to their own personal detriment. They may stay in an abusive work or home environment rather than addressing the abuse for fear the conflict will escalate. They can learn that conflict is not all bad and may sometimes result in positive outcomes, especially when used judiciously. They are more likely to be willing to tolerate some conflict if they can see how the desired outcome may benefit those they love or care about in a work situation. They may need the support of others to help them develop skills to work through the conflict, however, and they typically would rather do almost anything else.
Working through conflict requires an understanding of differences, at least at some level, because each brain only knows itself (and sometimes not all that well). The overt confrontational style of the Prioritizing division can shut down brain bents in the other three divisions or escalate the conflict in a way that disrespects differing perspectives. The other divisions can learn to stay at the negotiating table. All brains need to understand that a workable solution for differing brains is typically not ‘either or’ but more likely ‘both and.’ Each brain needs to be aware of the words and tone of voice that are being projected into the conflict. The healthier and more functional each brain, the more likely the group is to listen to and respect differing perspectives and honor the input of others, recognizing that no brain has all the answers and that excellence often comes out of diversity—as long as there is the willingness to discuss, collaborate, and share a commitment to discover a creative solution—or to respectfully agree to disagree and look at move in a different direction.
Many individuals approach conflict in the style they saw role-modeled during childhood (or 180 degrees different) or in the way in which organizations in their culture expect and have taught them to behave. In addition, if the individuals perceive they must ‘win’ in order to be okay, consensus may be impossible. Regardless of brain bent, the healthier and more actualized and differentiated the individuals are, the more likely it is that they will be able to arrive at consensus or compromise. In a personal arena it will be important to decide whether the relationship is more important than the issue. If the answer is no, then the individual may need to walk away from the relationship. If the answer is yes, the parties involved will need to find a way to compromise or to accommodate the differing perspectives. That may be as simple as purchasing two tubes of toothpaste because each has a different way of getting the toothpaste out of the tube and onto their toothbrush. Regardless, it is critical for individuals to understand that chronic stress due to chronic conflict can contribute to many different illnesses and diseases and could even shorten one’s life.