What’s really driving our conflicts, and why should we care?

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We’ve all got conflict in our lives. All of us. Whether we admit it, see it, or deny it, it’s there.

For some, it might be occasionally. For others, it might be on a daily basis. Almost none of us enjoy it, unless it’s an addictive adrenaline rush or compulsive need to create it. Most of us want to avoid it at all costs or get out of it as soon as possible. So, why do we have certain conflicts that resurface or just won’t go away? What if we knew a way to resolve it once and for all or prevent it in the first place? We might not be able to prevent all of our conflict, but we can certainly reduce it and its effects on our emotional and financial wellbeing.

As with anything, if we can just get to the root of the WHY — why are we still having conflict with our co-worker, neighbor, or partner. What’s beneath the appearances or situation of the conflict. What’s the underlying why behind the trigger that got me stirred up in the first place. We often think the conflict is the situation of my co-worker’s inability to do their job, my neighbor playing their music too loudly, or my spouse not doing their fair share of the chores. Yes, those might have been the apparent triggers, but why do those bother me enough to create conflict between us? And why do they re-occur?

Many conflict resolution models suggest that there are a few levels of emotions going on at the same time that push us into conflict. Each of us has our own set of values and beliefs by which we live. We’re all unique with what I like to call our own little red wagons that we pull alongside of us, which contain our “B.S.” or Belief System. We walk through life every day with our red wagon of beliefs, until … in a particular situation, our wagon collides into someone else’s carrying different values. If at the same time, on another layer of our inner selves, we happen to be experiencing obvious or hidden stressors, those can contribute to creating conflict. These real-life stressors could be things like, “I’m so tired because I stayed up all night with my toddler’s teething tantrums,” or “I’m scared because I’m behind on the rent.” These don’t even cover more existential threats like “We’re all going to die because of politicians denying the climate crisis,” or “I’m mad at God for taking away my son’s life.”

These are all real underlying beliefs, values, and stressors that can bubble up in a big bowl of emotional soup (often when we least expect it) to create conflict in our lives. So instead of only asking ourselves how we can solve our current situation, we can also look into our hidden drivers creating the conflict and what we can do about those.

It’s Conflict Resolution Month in Colorado, so it’s a perfect time to take an internal look at what’s driving our conflicts. It’s amazing how relationships improve when we’re willing to look at ourselves, talk about it, and work it out together. If you want to learn about preventing or managing conflict, there are workshops, classes, articles, books, and facilitation and mediation professionals available. Check out www.conflictresolutionmonth.org or email me.

In peace,

Formerly a Colorado state senator, now a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell, of Littleton, is a writer, speaker, filmmaker, and consultant. She may be reached at senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.

Linda Newell

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