Walking around Stirling in Scotland, I saw the sign below on a building which many years ago housed a home for abandoned boys. It reminded me of all the families, couples and firms that live by the no quarrelling rule, extending it to cover any passionate disagreements. But is no conflict healthy? Or is it possible to have “healthy” conflict?
When my children were young and squabbling over toys, I, too, used to say “stop arguing”. As they got a bit older, they learned to say “we’re not arguing, we are discussing.” I recognised my own words from an occasion when my husband and I were having a heated discussion and one of the children asked us to stop arguing…
Is no conflict healthy?
First, one has to define healthy: “sound and vigorous, natural or normal, promoting good health.” Hmmm. Conflict, like pain, is an inevitable part of life. Like pain, it protects us and spurs us on to change what needs to be changed.If everyone really agrees, then no conflict is healthy. But often what people mean when they say no conflict is actually “we don’t talk about it in case we argue.” It’s normal to feel angry, annoyed, exasperated, hurt or sad. Change is resisted, opinions differ, needs clash, and resources are limited.
If “quarrelling is taboo”, how do people resolve their problems and achieve their aims? When you express yourself, someone might disagree with you–but if you don’t, you may not get what you need. Fear of conflict can allow bullies and tyrants to triumph.
So, do you really have no conflict? Or are you hiding or ignoring it?
Pain & conflict: essential for health
We would all like to avoid pain, yet one of the most dreaded diseases of the past was leprosy, where people lost the ability to feel pain. So they did not pull away from a burning object, didn’t feel a rat gnawing their feet, and ignored sores. This led to injuries festering, loss of limbs, disfigurements and eventually, death. Nowadays, people take painkillers or self-medicate to suppress pain instead of addressing the cause. Treating symptoms doesn’t heal the disease.
Conflict is like pain. It is there to alert us to problems and issues that need to be addressed. However, if we fear conflict, we may do nothing. Little issues become big ones. Minor grievances fester. We tell ourselves stories where we are the hero and the other the unwitting villain. Research links more and more ailments to stress. Our flight or fight response switches on without being able to discharge and stress levels rocket.
Why do people ignore or hide pain and conflict?
- Some feel that to admit to either is a sign of weakness.
- Investigating the pain or conflict might uncover something unpleasant. People still fear cancer, even though many are now treatable if caught early. Yet we still read of people ignoring a pain until it is too late. They don’t read the leaflets, they ignore the pain, they don’t go to the doctor… In the workplace, people pretend things are okay, because they fear raising issues will uncover more problems.
- Lack of skills and knowledge. Knowing that a headache may be caused by dehydration, we acknowledge our headache and drink water. If we know what causes the disagreement and how to manage conflict, we are more likely to address it.
As I’m a mediator, not a doctor, I won’t offer solutions for pain. I’ll just give you few hints about how to stop avoiding conflict and engage in healthy conflict.
First, admit there is a problem. You may not be able to admit it to others; at least be honest with yourself. If you need help with this, watch this TED talk on vulnerability. Another great resource for those who struggle with admitting to problems is Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Next, work out what the issue is and if it is worth raising. (Some tips). If you can’t raise it, what else can you do? Perhaps, talking it over with a friend or relative helps. On the other hand, is it worth talking to a professional who can give a more objective view? I’m always happy to have a confidential, complimentary chat to help you work out what’s the next best step.
Finally, take action. Expect the best result, don’t overestimate the risks. Go for what your instincts tell you, not what your fears do. More tips about taking the plunge.
If you’d like some help, give me a ring.