• Why Conflict Resolution Processes Are Problematic


    People often arrive in mediation with a sense of hopelessness, convinced that they have been at loggerheads with the other party for so long that a solution is beyond the realms of possibility.

    The underlying elements that cause conflict are deep-rooted, often unspoken and therefore difficult to unravel. People become stuck in a conflict mindset and can’t see the wood for the trees when approaching a problem. It’s win or lose or fight or flight, right or wrong, win or lose. The language of stubbornness, of defensiveness, of hopelessness.

    These underlying elements manifest themselves in the following guises:

    Anger emerges when people feel that they cannot get what they want, or that their point of view is not being seriously considered by the other participant.  Anger from one person is likely to provoke anger in the other.  Each side may then try to escalate over the other in order to dominate and win, and a fight is on. 

    Fighting produces winners and losers, and in the process abandons the actual problem and focuses instead on how much hurt they can cause to the other.  That’s why a fight typically leaves the original problem unsolved.  Each fight therefore increases the likelihood of further fights, a pattern of perpetual conflict, and can lead to verbal or physical violence. 

    Avoiding conflicts sometimes looks preferable to fighting.  The difficulty with avoidance is that the problem does not get attended to or solved. If the problem continues to hover in consciousness without leading to open discussion, individuals will feel anxiety; couples will experience tension.

    Obsessional thinking, compulsive behaviours and addictions are evidence of avoidance even of thoughts of the problems by means of distracting alternative activities.  Disengaged marriages result when spouses avoid conflicts altogether.

    Depression occurs when one side wins and the other loses.  The feelings of hopelessness and of anger that underlie depression come from feeling that one’s concerns have been ignored, that one is not being listened to, that one cannot get what one wants, or that one has lost. 

    Fighting, avoiding and giving in all can have serious consequences.  They create negative emotions that harm relationships.  Also these less-than-satisfactory conflict resolution processes leave the realistic problem in life un-solved.  Clearly, peaceful win-win conflict-solving pathways are preferable to either fight, flight or submit responses. 


    Staying on pathways of collaborative communication is vital to successful conflict resolution.  Any slippage will inadvertently risk triggering process-induced conflict.  Learning these skills can give you guard rails that keep you safe.

    What's vital on the listening end is that we learn to listen seriously to our own wishes and concerns, and also to hear the wishes and underlying concerns of others.  I call that dual ability bilateral listening, that is, two-sided listening. Bilateral listening is a hallmark of personal maturity because it enables people to create solutions that encompass the concerns of both participants. 

    To the extent that we succeed in learning to do collaborative conflict resolution, we will become more effective and productive at work, live more harmoniously as families, and be able to hope for a more peaceful and harmonious world.