Did you know that there is power in conflict? As a peace-builder who has been at the heart of some of the most violent conflicts, I know how far-fetched this notion may sound. However, my life experience has brought me to this conclusion. Conflict gets a bad rap; it is seen as the reverse of peace. However, the opposite of peace is not conflict; it is war. In fact, I would argue that conflict is an essential element in maintaining peaceful societies.
Conflict is an essential part of the human experience. It can push us towards innovation, creativity, accountability, and stepping outside of our comfort zone. If we all agreed in meetings, we may miss out on some of the best innovations ever made, all because someone in the room chose harmony over innovation. The notion that we should all hold hands so nobody gets upset can actually stifle innovation and creativity. Conflict challenges our absolute truths and world assumptions. It leads us beyond the surface and into the depths of our character through an examination of our moral base.
Conflict is an essential part of the human experience.
Conflict is negative when it turns violent and harmful. Our fear and avoidance of conflict lead to violent escalations and abuse, whether they be physical, verbal, or spiritual. One of the most powerful things I have learned is how avoidable conflict can be with the utilization of proper tools. A deeper understanding of one’s communication style, conflict style, personal traumas (we all have them), and our needs/wants is essential. These tools can help us gracefully handle confrontations and conflict, leading to productive transformation.
There are three key tools that help people gain a greater appreciation for conflict. By knowing (and understanding) these components, you will learn how to approach conflict in a way that is productive — and transformative.
Understand Your Conflict Style
Self-awareness should apply to everything. The more you know yourself (and understand your worth), the stronger your relationships will be. With the advent of the self-help movement, there is a growing global recognition of this concept, yet very few people think (let alone know) their conflict style. Are you an avoider? A compromiser? A problem-solver? Be sure to resist the temptation to assume one style is better than another; they all have their own individual strengths and weaknesses.
For example, a problem-solver can be good at finding solutions, but their approach can lead to burnout and exhaustion if it’s applied to every fight that arises. And although avoidance is not always the best strategy, there are times when avoidance is the kindest — and safest — method. In contrast, a compromiser may be incredibly popular on the outside, but on the inside, they may harbor deep resentment. The main idea: choose self-awareness over self-judgment.
Love Your Trauma
We all have trauma. It could be as simple as a door slamming on our finger or as complex as surviving war. The level of trauma inexplicitly shapes who we are. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The human experience is complicated and enriched more and more by life lessons. Everyone should spend time understanding the traumas and events that have shaped them. After 20 years working in war zones, I have had my fair share of drama and trauma.
When I turned to my traumas and embraced them (while being grateful for what they have taught me), I was able to create space for joy and happiness to enter my life. This is particularly essential in marriage. If you are unaware of how your parents’ relationship is playing out in your own family, then you are setting yourself up for challenges. If you are unaware of your own insecurities, you may pass them on to your children. Father Richard Rohr once said, “Trauma that is not transformed is transferred.” I spent two decades of my life watching people who were unaware of their traumas unfairly unleash their unhealed pain onto their loved ones.
Take Responsibility for Your Own Happiness
It may seem obvious, yet somehow this alludes many of us. Nobody is responsible for our happiness except ourselves. Nobody has a clue about how to make us happy except us. This includes your parents, children, and spouse. When people ask me what I am looking for in a spouse, my response is: someone who has the power to own their own happiness. It’s literally my only criteria. Depending on your spouse to make you happy doesn’t just set you both up for conflict, but it is also unsustainable.
The expectation that sacrifice and compromise lead to healthy marriages is one of the greatest myths in our world today. Through open and honest dialogue, a married couple will begin to shift towards synchronization. This means that you are not doing something just to make them happy. The time spent together as a married couple should not look like a chart of compromises, but rather a dance of desire.
If you want to know more about your conflict style, e-mail ARL to receive a free self-assessment and answer key.
Manal Omar is the founder and CEO of Across Red Lines. She has a certification in Global Mental Health – Trauma and Recovery from Harvard Medical School, and she is currently a student at Sex Coach University in California. Her experience as a humanitarian worker and peacebuilder for over 20 years has connected her with women’s rights groups across the globe.