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Communication and Conflict Newsletter, Issue #006, Denial is not a river in Egypt!
July 20, 2008

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Denial is not a river in Egypt!*
(or why responding to a conflict by trying to avoid it or pretending it doesn't exist doesn't work)

Hi Everyone,

Click Here to see Previous Newsletters.

The Communication and Conflict Newsletter is no longer published although the archives can still be visited via the above link. Instead, Alan Sharland now produces a blog associated with his organisation CAOS Conflict Management - you can visit this and sign up by clicking on the banner below:

CAOTICA the CAOS Conflict Management Blog

I'm sorry this newsletter is later in the month than usual, but a combination of work, play and my pc crashing with an unsaved version of this newsletter on it has delayed its production. I've learned from the mistake, don't worry!

So, to continue the theme of last month's Newsletter let's continue to look at the different ways we approach or respond to conflict.

There would seem to be just 3 different ways in which we respond to conflict. They are:

This month we will look at Conflict as a problem:

When we see conflict as a problem, we tend to turn away from it and pretend it doesn't exist, or we hope that it will go away if we ignore it.

This is sometimes described as 'being in denial'.

Sometimes of course the immediate problem does go away and so it might seem to work. But what we haven't learned from the conflict is how to respond when the same or a similar thing happens again. The next time it might not go away so easily.

So the problem might be:

  • A particular type of behaviour that we come across in people we work with, either as clients or as colleagues.
  • A task we have to do which we find difficult.
  • A family conflict, or,
  • A difficulty in a formal meeting that we attend
You can probably think of others.

If we don't learn how to respond to the situation in a way that is constructive and which resolves it, the chances are high that we will experience the same distress, upset, insecurity etc again in the future.

Some relationships (including personal, professional and organisational) repeat the same 'dramas' over and over again throughout their lifetime because a way of resolving the situation has not been found, and I believe this is always because it has been responded to either as a problem to be avoided or as a competition to be 'won'.

Of course we do have the right to pass on dealing with a conflict. Sometimes we may genuinely feel we don't want to deal with it 'right now'. We may have other, more pressing difficulties to deal with at the time.

And that's fine as long as we are prepared to accept the consequences - that it is likely to return as a problem, even if in some slightly different form. And that it will continue to do so until we find some form of resolution of the difficulty. A more effective way of responding.

9 Principles to Help You Communicate and Respond to Conflict More Effectively

The Communication and Conflict Guide to the Principles of Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution

I spoke in Newsletter 2 about one of the possible consequences of continually avoiding a problem even though we know it is still there. We can pretend and pretend it's not there until we burst. Until the boiling pot with the lid on it can no longer be ignored.

We put the lid on in the hope that by not seeing what is simmering underneath we won't have to deal with it. But the lid will always start to rattle and the contents will continue to bubble and burst out.

If we don't accept the consequences and complain that "This keeps happening to me!", then we are back to denial again.

If we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting what we always got

In a way we are 'happening' it to ourselves through not seeking a different way of responding, once we recognise that the difficulty continues to occur.

The original conflict or difficulty will be unavoidable. Conflict is always present. What matters is how we respond to it. And if the same conflict arises and we continue to react in the same way......... then the same consequence is likely to occur.

So why do we try to avoid conflict?

Sometimes we do this because we have had a bad experience in dealing with conflicts in the past and when we see something similar happening again, we try to avoid it, as if that is possible. What this means is that we are confusing the conflict, which is inevitable, with the responses made to it, which are not.

Our responses can be very destructive in the form of verbal abuse, aggression, war, the 'silent treatment', disconnection, etc.

*My thanks to Sandi Bachom for the inspiration for the title of this Newsletter, a phrase popularised by one of her books. Sandi's book is mainly focused towards understanding and dealing with Alcoholism and Co-dependency.

At the time, we didn't know any other way of responding, nor did those others who responded in the same way. The focus of next month's newsletter is about how we can use such experiences to learn, connect with others and gain new insights into ourselves.

But the confusion, the belief that the conflict inevitably means those things will happen, is what leads us to try to avoid it, as if the conflict is the same thing as our responses to it.

It isn't. The conflict is something that will happen. We can't change that. Our reaction to it is also something that will happen. But we can change that when we recognise that it is not working.

To believe that conflict is the same as our responses renders us powerless. To see that they are separate empowers us to make a difference.

I usually say that it is a 'reaction' when we respond without consciousness of what we are doing. When we don't realise we have a choice.

I think of a 'response' as being one of many choices of action we can make to a difficult situation, once we have learned that we have choices. Some responses will resolve it, others will not, and may even escalate it. But when we have a choice we can choose the best one at the time.

Treating conflict as a problem to be avoided blinds us to the choices we have. Creating a different response changes our experience of the conflict to one of acceptance and a feeling that we have the personal power to resolve it.

Connect with Alan on LinkedIn

or his Twitter page @alan_sharland

Besides being the author of the Communication and Conflict website
Alan is Director of CAOS Conflict Management
Tel. +44 20 3371 7507

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Connect with

Would you like to have Conflict Coaching via Skype? Or are you a Mediator looking for mentoring? Click on the link to find out more.

Some links that you may find interesting...... is an excellent resource of information relating to mediation. There are articles, links to websites and blogs as well as the possibility of locating mediators in your area. - is a comprehensive guide to information about Self Improvement, Personal Growth and Self Help on the Internet. It is designed to be an organized directory, with articles and references to thousands of other Web Sites on the World Wide Web.

Oh Wow This Changes Everything is a great site with an enormous number of links to articles about different aspects of effective communication and conflict resolution. Definitely worth a could be there for hours! helps people, like yourself, create change in their life and business. They share fun stress management strategies and personal development articles.

Learning Supersite is a fascinating site dedicated to the development of informal learning. "A new approach to learning, the Learning Supersite is a venue that provides personal learning community, but with state-of-the-art Web technologies."

Transforming Conflict is an excellent organisation which works with young people, and adults, in educational settings, promoting restorative approaches to conflict.

Would you like to build your own website?..... I Love SBI!

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