Being exposed to ongoing conflict is a stressful and exhausting experience which most people will go to major lengths to avoid. This stress is magnified where the other person in the mix thrives on conflict.
Conflict driven people tend to thrive on being uncooperative, uncompromising and vexatious in conflict situations. Remaining in the conflict often seems to add a sense of excitement and meaning to their life. It is generally very difficult for a person with a conflict addiction to disengage from the conflict, especially where they do not feel like they have made their point strongly enough. This situation often traps the other party in a cycle of conflict from which they can not escape. Irrespective of the drive and motivation of the antagoniser, it is always advisable for the other party trapped in a conflict cycle to be alert to the role that their own fatigue and bias may be playing in keeping the conflict alive.
THE PROBLEM OF FATIGUE
Fatigue and tiredness keep conflict in circulation. Tired people lose their ability to control what comes out of their mouths. Tired people are less able to filter out negative and vexatious discussions and responses. In a conflict situation, it is critical that one is able to call for a time-out even though this may be something that is quite untenable for the conflict-driven person. Experience shows that not every issue needs to be immediately discussed, no matter how attractive a quick blow-up may seem in the moment. Many issues can wait over to the next day when thoughts have been gathered, emotions cooled down and reality checked.
THE PROBLEM OF BIAS & ASSUMPTION
When dealing with difficult people it is essential to avoid thought-patterns that are not based on truth or reality. If left unchecked, false beliefs and assumptions gain a life of their own. The same is true of biased and faulty reasoning. When in conflict, it is critical to be alert to the possibility of there being a wrong interpretation of the situation. Wrong interpretations of action or motive intensify the cycle of conflict. Caution should always be exercised before one challenges another about an assumed bias. As a rule of thumb, one should find out where one’s own bias may lie before discussing another’s bias.
If you believe that a person may be operating from a position of bias or false assumption gently point this out to them. Avoid assuming the moral high ground in such discussions. No-one is immune from bias, a good test of character is what a person does about their bias when it is brought to their attention. When discussing bias and faulty assumptions remain humble and avoid being seen to be combative or aggressive. Keep a check on your tone of voice. Give the person an opportunity to think about what you are saying, and to rectify it where relevant. Never assume that you are free from bias, the very reason you may be taking issue on a point may be due to your own bias on the matter.
In a nutshell, one should always tread carefully when exposed to a person who thrives on conflict and has a conflict addiction. Adopting a “grab the bull by the horns” approach to the problem serves little long-term purpose, and may only heighten the conflict. Wherever possible, take yourself out of the firing line. (You can’t fight fire with fire when dealing with a conflict addict and hope to achieve a peaceful outcome). Rather, detach yourself emotionally from the problem. Be cognisant of the fact that the conflict is probably not about you but about that person’s inner turmoil and chaos. Listen earnestly and attentively. Remain diplomatic but firm. Be alert to options for resolution of the problem. Work through a bias checklist and consider the possibility of your own bias. Be truthful to yourself about your own fatigue and the role it may be playing in keeping the dispute alive. Don’t engage in lengthy discussions as to what should have been said or done. Rather, watch and listen out for the other person’s expressed (and unexpressed) fears, concerns and pain. Reflect back to the person what you have heard them say about the issue and get confirmation as to your understanding of what they have said. Ask the person to put forward proposals for resolution and let them know that you will also do so. Give them a fair hearing on their proposals and remind them that you require the same. Try to work towards resolution of the problem, but if that is not possible then seek outside professional assistance. Do not be hard on yourself if a resolution is not achieved. The critical point is that an attempt was at the least made to bring the conflict issues to finality.
You cannot control another’s outcome. You can only control yourself.