Conflict is part of human relationships and is crucial in fiction. It makes your story move, gives your characters something to respond to and tests their strengths and weaknesses. I like to introduce conflict early on in my writing so I can subtly build the tension as we move through the story arc up and through to the resolution. So, build, climax and resolve the conflict is a simple model.
I write psychological thrillers/dramas so my concern is more with internal conflict and how characters are feeling, what drives them to behave in a certain way and how far will they go to get emotional relief or control over their situation. This is highlighted more so when something blocks a character from achieving a goal as in the case of Una Carrington in The Cruelty of Lambs.
In my debut novel, I’ve drawn on a lot of personal experience and that of clients I’ve worked with over the years to help resolve conflicts at work, in the home and with those difficult, controlling people who pop up in our lives.
Through my former career as a training consultant in conflict resolution, I thought I’d share a few of the tips that have worked for many people over the years when their preferred option was to fight back as they said it made them feel more powerful. Conflict is about power and control and we see this played out in a host of workplace scenarios, not only between manager and employee but between co-workers who can be so unreceptive to reason that the only option left is to resign and move out and on, especially if their health is being affected. Of course this might mean letting the bullies win in the short term but it’s also letting management know that they are doing a poor job of people management. You have to do what’s best for you.
The two keys to avoiding or resolving conflict are a) effective communication skills and b) emotional control.
Lack of information, misinformation or misunderstandings are prime causes for conflict between couples, families and within the work place. If emotions are allowed to drive decision making this will lead to an overheating and a worsening of the situation. Think of people at work who have lost control and flown into a rage. They use fear to regain control over others, thus creating a toxic workplace.
We are so quick to defend ourselves against attack that we don’t stop to listen to what the other person is trying to say. A first step is to keep quiet. Silence is a powerful tool and it is the start of restoring some balance. Talking over somebody to get your point in first is one of the biggest mistakes to make.
This is what I try to do when faced with conflict.
Listen, evaluate and ask questions. Avoid destroying somebody’s story because it doesn’t fit in with your perception.
Watch your language and attitude. We are not always aware of how we are coming across to people. Being aggressive, negative or even abusive is like pouring petrol on a bonfire.
Assess the situation and be honest about your own part in the conflict. Is your own behaviour escalating the situation? Are you shouting, swearing, being sarcastic or being just offhand with the other person. If so, then you are adding to the conflict.
Consider the origins of the conflict. Has it been brewing for a while but nobody wanted to address it? The longer it’s left, the worse it will get.
Put boundaries about what you consider to be unacceptable behaviour and make it clear to the other person what you are doing. Say, ‘I want to resolve this conflict between us but I won’t accept you calling me names (give the examples) and making threats. Until you stop, I don’t wish to continue the discussion.’
Own your own behaviour. It’s difficult for many people to admit they are wrong and apologise. As someone who is well skilled in behaviour (I’m qualified in Transactional Analysis), I will always consider my own behaviour and the impact it might be having on another. I will apologise even if to say I am sorry you feel like that or I am sorry I have done something to annoy you. That’s what grown-ups do.
Disengage if the conversation becomes abusive or menacing or limit the conversation to matters of fact. Don’t get caught up in a tit for tat, especially in a domestic situation. Some people want to create conflict because they get a rise out of it and your reactions.
Find a common goal. What does the other person want from the situation? Ask them the question. Ask how you can contribute to that goal. Conflict can provide an opportunity for change. To do things better than before, to build better relationships but it does require you to take a long hard look at what you say, how you say it and your behaviour. Abuse in any form is not acceptable.
Staying calm and in control is really the clue to conflict resolution. It might need several conversations before you can make any headway. Keep the other person’s feelings in mind and ask them to do the same for you. By controlling yourself you will gain some perspective on the matter and reduce the emotional knee-jerking.
If you would like to know more, then my mini-book, Conflict Resolution is available for 99p.