Lisa Keating: How do you handle conflict?

Research shows how you deal with conflict can be a maker or breaker as you go through your life. It will determine if your romantic, social, neighborly and family relationships tend to grow stronger over time, or if in time they typically wither and end.

Further, how you handle conflict signals your value as an employee. People who don’t handle conflict successfully tend to move from job to job and blame others for why friends and jobs are lost. How you handle conflict will even determine what kind of relationships you have with your children.

This is the first of a two-part series dedicated to shining a light on understanding conflict and to learning new and improved conflict resolution skills so your relationships can evolve and build in positive ways.

And how you handle conflict directly relates to your happiness level. In fact, the research about happiness is easily summed up. Happy people have a positive world view, think positive thoughts and look for the good in people and situations. Happy people have a few close friends they can really count on, and they are in stable, loving, trusting romantic relationships. Happy people find meaning in their work or in volunteerism. So the connection between conflict resolution and the quality of your life is big.

Obviously, conflict is unpleasant, but it’s a normal part of every relationship. No two people are ever going to agree on everything all the time. Accepting that fact is an important start.

Next, it’s essential to take an inventory of how you tend to handle conflict. Most of us deal with conflict in ways that are shaped from our early family experiences. For example, a child who experiences yelling, name-calling, hitting, abandonment and worse early on may avoid conflict at all costs, giving in to what others want because “it’s not worth it,” as the saying goes.

Or the opposite can present and the bully emerges; “might makes right” is the other side of that coin. Bullies get what they want regardless of the cost to others.

And sometimes people are most comfortable with superficial, short-term relationships, moving on to new friends as soon as conflicts arise.

None of these approaches to dealing with conflict works well. Yelling, name-calling, making threats and hurting others kills relationships.

Lucky were those who were shown as children exceptional ways of handling disagreements, tension and conflict with the finesse of Mary Poppins. Everyone appreciates the value of calm when tensions are high.

Of course, most of us fall somewhere between beauty and the beast. Be honest with yourself in taking stock of your approach. Don’t worry about what your true style is because you can learn more effective skills.

Positive conflict resolution is a skill and with some focused intention you can learn to take a healthy approach when frustration and difficulty presents itself. Look to my next column for some simple yet effective outlets for positive conflict resolution.

Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.


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