Conflict has a distracting quality. It may draw all our attention to the other party. We should direct considerable attention towards the other party – the person we have a conflict with – but not all of our attention.
In attempting to alleviate discomfort and resolve a dispute, parties may look only externally. Fixated on the offences inflicted by the other and the ‘unreasonableness’ of his or her proposals, they leave themselves out of the equation.
When we are in conflict we often express ourselves adamantly about what is wrong with the other party and his or her behaviour, and what should be done to resolve matters. We sound as if we have clarity, but do we? Not in my experience.
Sometimes it is wise to shift attention to yourself, particularly if you feel you are not making progress. There are several ways to do this. One way is to spend some time examining your direction in life. What direction are you headed in and what direction would you like to be going in?
When you feel your priorities are straight, examine how well your involvement in the conflict matches those priorities. Through such an examination a few things may happen.
Firstly, how much time and energy the conflict deserves should become more clear. Should the conflict be in an ongoing relationship, engagement is probably the best policy. But how you go about engaging can be altered. For example, it may make sense to schedule shorter, focused periods of communication, or to involve someone else.
Secondly, I find such examinations lead to deeper understandings about what matters in a resolution. In light of priorities, perhaps accepting 75 percent of what you are asking for is something you could live with, if you could receive an acknowledgement of how much you were inconvenienced. Perhaps a shipment of particular materials would make up for all the errors in previous orders. Perhaps a verbal commitment to consider your ideas in future would allow you to let go of resentments from repeatedly not receiving credit that you should have received a long time ago.
Thirdly, you may find yourself taking more responsibility for your role in what happened. Acknowledging your contribution allows you to learn from the experience and prevent repeat occurrences. Although it takes two to generate a conflict interaction, it only takes one to shift the interaction to a more constructive dynamic. That one could be you.