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Communication and Conflict Newsletter, Issue #007, - 3 Cheers for Conflict!
August 09, 2008

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Newsletter - Learning from Conflict

3 Cheers For Conflict!
(or how, if we can accept conflict as inevitable, we can step back and see it as an opportunity for Learning, Connection and Insight)

Alan Sharland

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

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Newsletter no.7

Apparently the formatting of the last newsletter didn't work on a few people's computers so my apologies for that. What I've learned from it is that, in future, I will always give a link to the Communication and Conflict webpage on which the newsletter is displayed...............................Like this ----->>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Thank you to those of you who pointed this out to me!

It was actually a useful example of how we can learn from a difficulty or problem and has relevance to the theme of this and the last 2 Newsletters. We learn from difficulties or problems or conflicts on a regular basis. In fact we are very good at it, but instead of acknowledging our ability to learn we often overlook how adept we are at it.

For example, instead of learning from the formatting problem you pointed out to me I could have responded in the following ways:

Conflict as Competition response: (Me - responding to person who points it out to me) 'No, there must be some problem with your pc or browser. Have you looked at your settings?' (I'm right, you are wrong!)

Conflict as a problem to be avoided response: (Me-thinking)'Oh no, what are they on about, there's no problem with the layout. It worked in the past. I'll leave it, it will probably be ok next time.'

But if I'd responded in either of those ways it would have been a bit silly of me and would certainly not enable learning, connection or insight in relation to the problem.

So what do I mean by Learning, Connection and Insight - the 3 Cheers for Conflict?

Well let's look at it again in the simple situation above, and then we can look at it in a broader sense in relation to the inevitable conflicts we will encounter in our day to day lives.

If I had responded to the problem as a competition, or avoided it:

  • I would have learned nothing,
  • I would quite possibly have lost connection with anyone who pointed out the problem only to be told it was a problem with their pc, or lost connection with those who found the same problem repeated in the next Newsletter,
  • I would have gained no insight into myself and my ineffective way of reacting to the problem.

However, treating the problem or 'conflict' as an opportunity I gained the following:

  • Learning - as a result of acknowledging and accepting there was a problem, I then learned how to fix it, thereby reducing the likelihood of future problems, as well as set up an alternative option in case future formatting problems arise by giving the link to the Newsletter's webpage.
  • Connection - I was able to acknowledge your kindness and helpfulness in pointing out the problem to me, making it more likely that you will do so again in the future and, hopefully, seeing that I value your input.
  • Insight - I was able to gain an understanding of myself in relation to this kind of difficulty or problem. How did I respond? What did it feel like to me to realise I'd overlooked something? Was it due to a tendency in me to rush and not thoroughly check everything? Or is that being too harsh on myself, was there in fact little I could do to prevent that until the problem arose, as until that time I wasn't aware of the gap in my knowledge? Can I forgive myself for it and accept it's ok to make mistakes - one of the most important Principles in dealing with such situations - in myself, and in others?

This is a very simple example, but one that illustrates how we can use this approach in any conflict situation.

The most important thing in any conflict or other difficult situation is to ask ourselves:

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If we decide we can say yes to one or both of the above (we can respond in both ways to the same difficulty in relation to different aspects of the difficulty), we can then, instead, consider the following:

  • Can I learn something from this? For example, how to prevent it happening again in the future?
  • Could I gain a 'connection' with the other person over this? Could I, perhaps, understand why this was a problem for them, to empathise with their perspective on it. It doesn't mean we have to agree with it. We all have different views on things. But at least I can be open to understanding how they could see it that way.
  • What personal insights can I gain from this? How am I responding to this? What is going on in me? Do I feel defensive? Do I feel offended? Do I feel foolish? Is my response aggressive? Is it to be a 'victim'? Is this situation similar to other situations I've found myself in before? How did I resolve it then? If I didn't, what could I do differently this time that might help me to resolve it?

The most important thing is to be able to acknowledge in the first instance that we are responding to the situation either as a competition, or as a problem to be avoided. Once we have done this we have managed to 'step back' from it.

Quotation Corner:
"Through inquiry, we discover how attachment to a belief or story causes suffering. Before the story there is peace. Then a thought enters, we believe it, and the peace seems to disappear. We notice the feeling of stress in the moment, investigate the story behind it, and realize that it isn't true. The feeling lets us know that we're opposing what is by believing the thought. It tells us that we're at war with reality. When we notice that we're believing a lie and living as if it were true, we become present outside our story. Then the story falls away in the light of awareness, and only the awareness of what really is remains. Peace is who we are without a story, until the next stressful story appears. Eventually inquiry becomes alive in us as the natural, wordless response of awareness to the thoughts and stories that arise."

Byron Katie,from Question Your Thinking, Change the World

If we are ready to accept that neither of these approaches ever actually resolves a conflict, they only suppress it and put it off to another day when it may come back more forcefully, then we can move on to consider whether we can, instead, treat the situation as an opportunity for Learning, Connection and Insight.

Sometimes it is hard to accept that. We may feel so angry that our competition approach may be more present and it will feel hard to let go of the need to be 'right', or 'not wrong', depending on how the situation is. Or we may feel unable to deal with the problem at the time.

And that is absolutely fine.

The most important thing is to notice it and recognise that there is another way. Even if we are not practicing it at the time. We know that there is a choice. Choices empower us. When we think we have no choice and can only react in one way, that is when we feel powerless. We think we have no control over our responses. We fear what we might do as we think there is only one reaction possible.

When we lose that fear through recognising that we can approach our conflicts in another way, it makes it much more likely that we will do so. Even if, at the time we may not want to, we know we can eventually. That can be a very liberating and reassuring realisation.

Is History repeating itself?.....

Think of any conflict you are involved in, or any difficulty that arises in your life from time to time. How are you responding to it? Are you determined to 'win'? Do you avoid the situation or person at all costs? If either of these, it is almost certain the problem keeps arising for you, in one form or another:

  • A repeated 'issue' with your partner
  • A continuous uneasiness with your neighbour
  • A long term issue over a past relationship that keeps 'cropping up' because things keep reminding you
  • A problem at work with a colleague - they 'keep bullying' you, or they 'never acknowledge how hard you work'
  • A difficulty with a family member

You may have others.....

The only route to resolution of these difficulties is through approaching the situation as an opportunity for learning, connection and insight.

Note that I am not saying you will gain all of these. You won't have 'failed' if you don't get them all. What matters is that you respond to the conflict in this way. For your own sake. And, through that, it becomes for the sake of everyone. The outcomes will look after themselves, whether it is learning, or connection or insight or 2 of them or all 3!

Nothing will change, because nothing can change, when we respond to a conflict as if it is a competition or it is to be avoided. And we can believe there is no choice other than to respond in these ways.

But there is.

And when we genuinely acknowledge this - everything changes.

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

Follow @CAOS_Mediation on Twitter:

Become a fan of CAOS Conflict Management on Facebook

I am piloting a Skype Consultation Service.

If you would like to arrange a consultation via Skype, please go to the Conflict Coaching or Mediator Mentoring page to send me details of what you would like to discuss and proposed times to call me.

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?.....this is how I built mine... I Love SBI!

So, how did you like it?

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