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Are You a Conflict Positive Person?

Research shows benefits of being conflict positive.

Are you a conflict positive or a conflict negative person? A conflict positive person faces and encourages conflicts with others and manages them constructively to maximize their potential to enrich his or her life (Johnson & Johnson, 2013). Conflicts are resolved constructively when they result in an agreement that allows all participants to achieve their goals, the relationship among participants is strengthened, and participants’ competencies to resolve future conflicts with one another are increased. A conflict negative person suppresses and avoids conflicts and, when they occur, tends to manage them destructively (one wins, the others lose; relationships are damaged; ability to resolve future conflicts is decreased), thus decreasing the quality of his or her life. Consider, do I seek out or avoid conflicts, do I or do I not have the competencies to manage conflicts constructively, and do my friends and colleagues have the competencies to manage conflicts constructively?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, the likelihood is that there may not be enough conflict in your life. This is a problem. In many if not most cases, relationships, groups, organizations, and even societies would benefit from more conflict, not less (given that the conflicts are managed constructively). Finding conflicts should not be difficult, as conflicts tend to be inevitable and arise no matter what a person does. Conflicts tend to occur when you are committed to goals, and committed to other people. Absence of conflict indicates low levels of commitment.

Many conflict theorists have posited that conflict could have positive benefits (Johnson & Johnson, 2013). Freud believed that psychic conflict was a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for psychological development. Marx believed that class conflict was necessary for social progress. Piaget proposed that disequilibrium within a child’s cognitive structure can motivate a shift from egocentrism to accommodation of the perspectives of others. From almost every social science, theorists have taken the position that conflict can have positive outcomes.

Despite the theorizing, many people view conflicts in negative ways and try to suppress and avoid conflicts (Johnson & Johnson, 2013). They consider conflicts to be undesirable, leading to anger, hostility, frustration, rejection, divisiveness, damaged relationships, distrust, and decreased commitment to group or organizational goals. Conflict, when managed destructively, can create tension, stress, and anxiety, which may result in loss of sleep, injury and accidents, failure to innovate or be creative, absenteeism, sick days, discipline problems, and reductions in the quality and quantity of productivity. Conflicts may also be seen as resulting in psychopathology (such as passive/aggressiveness), abusive behavior, loss of credibility, miscommunication, reduced collaboration, lower morale, and the formation of fractions and cliques. All of these negative outcomes and more can be found when conflicts are managed destructively.

Given all the possible negative outcomes, why should you increase the frequency of conflicts in your life? There are many reasons based on the decades of research that has been conducted (Johnson, 2014; Johnson & Johnson, 2013). First, conflicts can focus attention on problems that need to be solved. Second, conflicts generate the energy, focus, and motivation needed to solve the problems. Third, conflicts stimulate curiosity, interest, and information search. Fourth, conflicts facilitate the understanding of other people’s perspectives on the problems. Fifth, conflicts can clarify your identify (who you are and what you stand for), what you care about and are committed to, and values. Sixth, conflicts provide an arena for the full and active use of your skills and abilities, allowing you to test yourself and assess your abilities. Seventh, conflicts may promote cognitive, social, moral and even physical development. Conflicts can stimulate change and growth. It is through conflicts, for example, that dysfunctional patterns of behavior that need to be changed can be identified. Eighth, conflicts can release anger, anxiety, insecurity, and sadness that, if kept inside, make you mentally and physically sick. Ninth, conflicts may keep your relationships clear of irritations and resentments and strengthen your confidence that you and your friends can resolve conflicts constructively.

It is ironic that even though most people may have a negative view of conflict, they tend to seek out conflicts in which to participate. People go out of their way to watch or participate in sporting events, play bridge and other games, watch movies, plays, or television programs, read novels, engage in discussions in blogs and social media, and even tease their friends. Conflicts can be highly enjoyable, providing a source of fun and entertainment. Life tends to be boring when there is no conflict.

Despite all the theorizing about the positive aspects of conflict, most people tend to believe that conflict is negative. Far from being encouraged and structured in most interpersonal and intergroup situations, conflict tends to be avoided and suppressed. Creating conflict to capitalize on its potential positive outcomes tends to be the exception, not the rule. You, of course, will want to correct this in your life. You will want to ensure you are a conflict positive, not a conflict negative, person.

References

Johnson, D. W. (2014). Reaching out: Interpersonal effectiveness and self-actualization (12th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, F. P. (2013). Joining together: Group theory and research (12th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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