May 19, 2019


“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
– Anais Nin

Our beliefs are what hold us together in the face of adversity. However, our beliefs at times may cause us to create conflict when they are threatened. We may react to another person out of sheer defensiveness to protect our beliefs. In this post, we shall explore how this pressure point of holding our beliefs close to us, can be dealt with efficiently, while resolving conflicts.

Let us imagine a scenario where A and B are co-workers. They are working on a project that needs completion by the end of the week. Emotions are running high since the stakes involved in the project are high. A and B have different approaches to complete the project on time. A is an organized and meticulous person who believes in recording each and every detail before getting down to actual work, consequently, causing a delay and low productivity which can cause annoyance among the co-workers. B on the other hand believes in finishing the project on time in the simplest possible way and does not believe in organizing beyond requirement. In this example, both A and B aim to finish the project but have different approach to reach the end goal.

Such a scenario is the breeding ground for conflict. What approach should a mediator or a manager adopt while resolving such an emotionally charged conflict? But, before we delve further into dissecting this scenario, let’s answer a few questions.

In the present example, why would the conflict arise is the first question that we should ask? Shouldn’t both the co-workers have their roles defined? However, consider a situation wherein both A and B are working their defined goals but are not able to work in sync because of their different approach to work. Another factor that would contribute to a conflict is a possible rivalry and the need to show the boss, which one of them is a better worker.

The result is that each of them will furiously try to protect their way of working and will stick to their guns until a conflict arises. They will feverishly protect their respective method of work because that is dear to their beliefs/work ethic and not doing things that way would mean an attack on their identity.

This is an important point to be kept in mind when looking to resolve disputes that are emotionally charged. A dominant party (“A”) out of the two parties may start a conflict wherein the less dominant party (“B”) would adopt a defensive behavior, thus making this less dominant party, the aggressive one.

An approach to deal with this aggressive behavior is that it can be explained to A that B might be acting in accordance with his or her own interests and what is sacred to him. His intention is not to hurt A but protect himself from losing his identity. This could simply be termed as defensive behavior. A person acts out of protecting his or her interests rather than with the intention to hurt another person.

Can we go on to think that anything a person does is to serve their selfish interests? It would be an over generalization if the aforesaid question is answered in the affirmative. However, what can be said is that people most of the times act onto these interests that are dear to them. In an emotionally charged conflict both sides are protecting what is sacred to them, thereby causing the conflict. What can be logically deducted from the above reasoning is that what a person does is not to attack the opposite party but to serve their interest and they are a mere roadblock in the self-serving exercise to protect their beliefs.

How does this perspective help us in understanding conflict better?

Let us assume that in the abovementioned example of a workplace conflict it can be explained to A and B that the each of them is acting in their own interest and the specific interest could be explained to the parties. While carrying out this exercise A and B would be made to understand that the interest of B is as important to as him as A’s concept is to him and vice versa.

The benefit of such an exercise is that firstly; the defensives-ness of each party would come down as both A and B will realize that this is an equal bargain. Secondly, such thinking would help the parties develop a stand, which might not have occurred to them in the midst of raging emotions. The party would be motivated to find its own interest as well and look at the dispute objectively rather than emotionally.

The aim of this exercise is to divert the parties from the emotions and look at their dispute and situation objectively. The aforesaid idea could work as a technique to deal with emotionally charged conflicts because therein, it is of extreme importance to bring objectivity to the table without which a peaceful settlement is not possible.

This approach will come in handy where emotions are involved instead of objectivity and the latter is the need of the hour, for example, workplace conflicts. Family conflicts, which have a higher degree of emotional involvement from the parties, might not be a suitable occasion to practice this approach.

(Disclaimer: This blog post gives a general idea on how to deal with an emotionally charged conflict. This approach maybe used as per the situation.)


Picture Credit: wikiHow

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About Vasudha Gupta 1 Article
Supreme Court & Delhi High Court Lawyer & Accredited Mediator.