What is Conflict?

Like everyone else, my life has had relationships that have experienced various degrees of conflict. When I consider the conflict I’ve faced over the years, it makes me wonder if it’s more or less than that of the “average bear.”  I don’t know if I’m typical or if everyone feels the tug of different perspectives the way I do. Do you wonder if you are typical too?  When I work with teams regarding conflict resolution in the Xponents workshop, Transforming Conflict into Creativity, it seems to me that the struggle is clearly not a stranger to most and as you may have guessed, be it friend or foe, I know conflict all too well.

I will attempt to share my conflict story but without the drama.  “Is that even possible,” you ask, and I’m wondering if I can let go of the drama too.  The greatest conflict of my lifetime has been between me and my oldest daughter.  What is so disheartening is that I remember the joy I felt the day I brought her home from the hospital after she was born, her first laugh, and how bright and quick she was when it came to memorizing her first book. I was devastated when she began to struggle as a teenager.   I won’t bore you with the details of the story(s) that live between us, but I will tell you that what has complicated our differences these past few years is a boy that we both equally cherish.

The reader’s digest version of my story is that my daughter became pregnant at sixteen, decided to keep the baby, decided after 6 months she was unable to effectively parent, my husband and I decided we would parent him, and she has deeply regretted her decision on several fronts for the past 16 years.  This is my perspective of course, but I think she would agree with this abbreviated version.

While I have simplified the story down to the basic facts, the complexity lies in, under, and around the many bits and pieces of this relationship dilemma. I’m a big fan of the work done in Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader, by Craig E. Runde, Tim A. Flanagan, which you can find on our recommended reading list.  One of their premises is that when dealing with differences we tend to behave in ways that are either active or passive.  My daughter and I are both on the active end of the spectrum which can be both good and bad.  Runde and Flanagan also distinguish between behaviors that are constructive vs. destructive.  If we put these dimensions together, examples of destructive and active behaviors are Winning at all Cost, or Displaying Anger. When my daughter and I are triggered and behaving at our worst, this is the place we go.  I am not proud that I can let my emotions get the best of me, and I continue to observe our pattern and ask myself the question, what do I really want for our relationship and perhaps more importantly what do I want for this boy who is our son literally and technically.  This awareness has helped me to make different choices some of the time.

The most active and constructive behavior is Perspective Taking.  When I am able to put myself in the shoes of my daughter and really seek to understand what she feels, I notice my heart opens up and I am less rigid and able to be with her energetically and without judgment.  I don’t know that our relationship will ever be ideal or that we will ever fully let our guards down and be able to collaborate with each other.  For today, I can choose to lower my defenses and be more open.  I can attempt to see things through her eyes. I can see in my mind that small laughing face and remember how much she matters to me.

It’ a small step in the right direction.

What do you think? Comment below and share your opinion.


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Deb Siverson

Deb Siverson is passionate about helping organizations drive results through connected and transparent conversations in the workplace. She is the author of the book, "The Cycle of Transformation: igniting organizational change through the leader coach." Deb's expertise includes organizational performance consulting, design and delivery of leadership development programs, customized team development, and individual and systems coaching. Deb holds a BS in Business from Regis University and an MS in Organizational Leadership from University of Colorado-Boulder. She serves on the board of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

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