Conflict management and storytelling

Question posed: When should I use conflict management and when is it okay to behave ‘normally’ and let go of conflict competence to experience real emotion, like anger.

Answer: I rarely encourage stark ‘either-or’ thinking such as this, and the two choices offered (to either be conflict competent or have real emotions) don’t contain every option:

Is conflict management a technique or a worldview? 

Let’s label your two choices. Either conflict management is a technique used strategically, or it’s a way of being in the world much as your personality, identity, norms, and culture give you ways of being in the world.

A compromise seems unsatisfactory: e.g. sometimes be conflict competent and sometimes not. There isn’t an obvious reason to willingly be conflict incompetent.

I propose we learn from the basics of storytelling

Isn’t there an integrative alternative, the way that storytelling is integrative? We are, after all, the sum of our stories. Think of any movie. Good stories are about conflict. A movie without conflict doesn’t draw big audiences. The conflict can be subtle internal angst or cars exploding. Hollywood knows conflict and emotion drive every story and then, the movie resolves that conflict with a different emotion.

Emotion and conflict competence are partners, not adversaries

If we are conflict competent, we can still engage in dramatic conflict and exhibit our emotions, such as righteous indignation over unfairness or injury. In other words, we can be both conflict competent and have the full range of human emotions reactions. When we react to those human emotions and reactions, we do so with conflict competence.

Conflict Managers are both conflict competent and fully human with biases, emotions, feelings and normal worldviews. Our conflict competence shows in our reactions to those biases, emotions, and feelings and our self-awareness of how our worldviews affect our judgment.

What to do with either-or options

Anytime I’m presented with such an either-or choice, I ask: “What are the other options, or is there a completely different set of questions that would reveal the (assuming there is one and only one, which may or may not be true) answer?”

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