How do conflicts occur?
Conflicts—we are specifically referring to the affective experience of the same—may be triggered by either party. In my case, owning to my habitude of synoptic communication (result of childhood habit of reticence) the typical sequence of progression of conflict is as follows:
- I synoptically express something
- The other person misunderstands a certain detail (detail that was not explicitly fleshed out by me)
- Out of misunderstood assumptions, they form an opinion (belief) that (unintentionally) effectuates a feeling of ill will (no matter how subtle).
- They try to respond normally, but the feeling of ill will “comes through” their words as it were (aka. vibes) despite their best intentions not to reveal it.
- I affectively sense the antagonism (no matter how subtle), and feel conflict.
- When not promptly attended to I may then become morose and/ or retaliate.
Of course it is possible for the role to be reversed here.
Traditional way to handle conflicts
The most well-known recommendation to handle conflicts is to communicate with more explicit civility. Here is an example of what this means in practice.
Where civility falls short
Explicitly added civility in communication reportedly has the effect of minimizing the chances of conflict. This is called managing the problem of conflicts. When the problem does not exist in the first place, however, there is nothing to manage. Eliminating the possibility of conflicts, wherever possible, is patently superior to merely letting them happen in a controlled fashion.
Moreover civility can be used to hide the feeling of ill will; for instance:
I think it’s worth adding that civility can be a shield for people who are expert at playing political games, and I think there are certain people in the community who are just that… and do that. I won’t elaborate here, but suffice it to say that I have definitely had exchanges with prominent members of the community where I got the distinct feeling that that person was really just sandbagging while being very polite and making every effort to appear impartial.
When push comes to shove, civility–no matter the level of dose applied–does virtually nothing to prevent the feeling of offense:
[…] once enough people are piling on to complain or tell you what’s wrong with what you did, you’re going to feel attacked - even if every single comment is worded politely and respectfully.
Which means that the palliative remedy of civility, while exacerbating the problem at times, is not the exemplary solution that many people claim it to be.
So how does one work towards eliminating conflicts? By no longer affectively experiencing it. Feelings are not set in stone; by feeling a conflict one is doing nothing but help perpetuate it.
For example, at the point I begin to affectively feel the other person’s antagonism (step 5 above) I have the choice to continue letting that feeling evolve into conflict, moroseness and retaliation, as may normally be the case, or look into how exactly I began to experience this feeling, and other feelings along with it. Sincere exploration into the affective faculty inevitably reveals beliefs I uphold, the attentiveness of which is the beginning of the end of them. When the beliefs dissipate away, it means there will be nothing to “trigger” me.
The other person likewise, if they are so inclined, would begin from step 3; they sincerely inquire into how their ill will arose causing them to no longer feel good. When successfully nipped in the bud, it merely leaves us with misunderstood assumptions than can simply be clarified by back and forth questioning (the brain, when unfettered by feelings, is very good at doing this). They may even provide a direct feedback to me about being more verbose in my communication such as to obviate such misunderstandings, or I may sensibly infer this myself.
Should the other person do this?
Most people would rather manage conflicts than seek to eliminate them—hence the widespread recommendation to apply a dose of civility as the proposed solution—therefore it would be impractical of me to expect every person I interact with to go through this process. Step 3 is out of my control; nor do I have to change the other person. What I can do instead is take full control of how I experience the interaction, and eliminate the feeling of conflict at its root (by cutting the chain as it were at step 5).
How to explore feelings?
So how does one explore these feelings with sincerity? This is what what is known as the actualism method is all about; follow that link to learn more.
To ensure success, it is important to maximize feeling congenial–as distinct from merely communicating explicit civility–towards anyone, and not just maximizing feeling good oneself. This is called harmlessness; and harmlessness and happiness are two sides of the same coin. From the aforementioned link:
It is not simply feeling good (as opposed to ‘good feelings’) that is crucial in the actualism method. It is equally crucial to feel, and to be harmless. Feeling harmless simply means not meaning anyone malice and in fact to feel gracious, congenial and affable towards the world and toward others. Feeling harmless is not a moral injunction. It is a question of naturally, experientially coming to a conclusion that harbouring harmful feelings towards others, although quite gratifying at times in a sense, doesn’t feel good. It perpetuates more problems that it solves