Conflict – Why is it so uncomfortable?

When I began mediating in Small Claims Court, I was surprised to see the obvious distress that many people felt when they arrived. Although the problems may not have been life-altering ones, they were still very important to them. They were exposed to a legal system they didn’t always understand, involved in a conflict with people they didn’t know and dealing with sums of money which might be challenging to repay.

No wonder they arrived shaking, scared and sometimes in tears! It was uncomfortable to watch this, however by returning my focus to the process that was being used and  listening carefully to them, I was able to develop a higher degree of comfort with the situation. After a period of time, I was able to maintain my focus of working toward resolution and offer compassion at the same time.

I believe there are three factors which make conflict uncomfortable for many of us.

  •  Your family background will determine the degree of skill/comfort you have in this area. If you heard the message “don’t fight – be nice” this makes it hard to learn skills to solve conflicts. Unless you came from a family where conflict resolution was modeled, likely this area won’t be well developed. Be aware of what message you received growing up. This is the first step to changing your skills with conflict. Remember that conflict takes a very high level of communication skill to resolve and to do it well requires directed practice with the right tools.
  • Our emotional reaction to conflict makes it difficult. Many of us find it hard to watch others in high degrees of emotion such as anger, hurt or sorrow. We want to help the other person but we don’t know what to do. We feel helpless. If we also feel fear, then the thinking parts of our brain shut down temporarily and its impossible to clearly and logically work anything out. This means that an issue or problem can quickly proceed to a “mess!”.
  •  Conflict is not a quick fix! Our culture likes fast food, instant messaging, expedited mail service etc.  We want to move on – we’re busy. To spend time resolving a conflict…well that’s hard.

It is normal to experience any of the following emotions in conflict:  sadness, anger, helpless, powerless, disappointed, hopeless, confused, suspicious, excited, worried, embarrassed, nervous, challenged, wronged, overwhelmed, hopeful, confident, uneasy……with this many to chose from, is it surprising that conflict feels difficult?

Conflicts are frightening and uncomfortable because we don’t have the tools or a road map of what to do. We would not set out on a road trip across Canada without a map – so why would solving a conflict be easy without preparation or specific techniques? When we practice in safety and have tools to use, we can begin to form new attitudes toward conflict.

Conflict is an opportunity to uncover something of importance – to yourself and the other person. So take time to do this and invest in help from an expert if you feel uncertain how to move forward. The issue you resolve could be of great important in your life and in your relationships.

Linda Varro
Juntura Mediation/coaching