Some recent reading has uncovered a trio of great quotes that give helpful insights into conflict and conflict management.
“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”
— Dorothy Thompson
This quote stresses the idea that conflict itself need not be feared or avoided. What we want to avoid is poor conflict management, which allows conflicts to become destructive.
“While substantive conflict, if handled correctly, can be very productive, personalized conflict is almost never a good thing. First, personalized conflict is fueled primarily by emotion (usually anger, frustration), and perceptions about someone else’s personality, character, or motives. Second, because personalized conflict is about emotion and not issues, problem-solving almost never works, because neither party is really interested in solving a problem…in fact, in extreme cases, the parties go out of their ways to create new ones, imagined or real. Third, personalized conflicts almost always get worse over time, if they cannot be converted to substantive conflict. That is because each person expects problems, looks for them, finds them, and gets angrier.”
— Robert Bacal, Institute for Conflict Prevention
This quote highlights a central tenet of conflict management: Separate the person from the problem; go hard on the problem, stay soft on the person.
“Conflict and disagreement offer wonderful opportunities to learn and grow. As long as you respect others’ differences and things don’t get personal, as long as you question the idea and not the person, then there will be room for discovery and movement toward the best solution.” — Matthew Gilbert, Communication Miracles At Work
And this last one really synthesizes the key points from the other two, drawing our attention to the potential that exists within conflict. Well managed conflict gives us an opportunity to learn about ourselves and others, and helps us create ideal solutions that we can all support.