Thoughts On Conflict Resolution

“Letting go is the willingness to change your beliefs in order to bring more peace and joy into your life instead of holding onto beliefs that bring pain and suffering…” ― Hal Tipper

Welcome back. I decided to be very European once again and take the month of August off, at least from blogging.   With another trip out west for nearly three weeks and a multitude of activities once again at home, it once again became quite clear that retirement and vacations are not for the faint or weak of heart. We need to rebrand retirement somehow.

With this blog’s topic dangling precariously over my head, August became an intermittent mental battle over, “To write, or not to write.” Actually, it was potentially worse, “Should I be conflicted over musing over the conflicts inherent in Conflict Resolution, or not.” At one point (yes, 3:00 am in the morning, local Mountain Standard time), I wrote some notes.


Everyone deals with conflict, and everyone has baggage.

(We all have sleeper values or hidden beliefs, and we can consider as baggage our need to defend these values.)

The Baggage lingers

When you think of it, all decision-making involves dealing with some level of conflict, either between two or more options or two or more people. It’s the latter situation where things get sticky.

As a complication, our baggage is still there, helping determine the eventual outcome, good or bad.

The Effects of Baggage on Conflict

If we accept the categories of baggage previously posted here, it will be relatively easy to see how they can have a serious effect on how we react in dealing with conflict (and decision-making).

What might be new to consider is the effect that this baggage has on creating the conditions and responses that lead up to conflict among people. In other words, how possible is it that significant conflict arises due to decisions and choices being steered (consciously or unconsciously) by our baggage? Looking through the lens of history, this seems very easy to confirm.

Recall that we rarely have all the information to help make our decisions and when we think we are stuck with making them, we let the negative consequences (posted here) of a bad or weak decision have more priority than they are worth. We believe we are stuck on the negative sum (–∑) side of the behavior curve and act to minimize further losses. These are the exact conditions that lead to conflict with others whose decision-making processes (and different baggage) has led them to another possible outcome.

The Response

There is a myriad of material on ‘How to Deal with Conflict’ covering parenting, marital, and organizational group or team approaches. For the most part these approaches deal with getting past the current conflict but rarely look at the underlying causes. They typically mix differing terminology, which often results in confusion.

In addition, rarely are these processes extrapolated to conflict among larger people groups (cultures, societies, and civilizations).

I suggest that the proposed responses to conflict fall into two general processes which are so often intermixed that they are presumed to be the same thing: Conflict Resolution, and Conflict Management.

Conflict Resolution

The key word in this process is ‘resolution.’ The conflict is resolved because both (or all) parties sincerely desire to identify and settle the issues (resolve them) and reach a mutually beneficial solution.

What this means is that both (or all) sides have made valid attempts to identify their (historical) baggage, either publically or privately, and chosen to no longer permit the baggage to steer or drive their continuing interactions.

While often demanding effort, adjustments, and learning, Conflict Resolution is often more easily achieved among individuals, for instance in parenting and marriage. It is typically an achievable result in otherwise healthy relationships. It is an intentional movement into the positive sum (+∑)  area of the behavior curve, where the pleasure of success (resolution) is greater than the continued pain of conflict (failure).

Historically, it has not been proven to be easily achievable (in the short term) with larger people groups and conflicts with deep roots. In the longer term (with the passing of one or more generations) it can be achieved – witness the changed relations among the US, Japan, and European nations since WWII.

On the other hand, long term resolution has more often not been achieved – witness Russian behavior since 1989 (and again most recently in the Crimea and Ukraine), and the Middle East.

A ‘cease-fire’ (global, local, or personal) is not a Conflict Resolution. Which brings us to the other process option.

Conflict Management

The key word in this process is ‘management,’ as when a cowboy ‘manages’ to subdue a calf and hog-tie it. One or neither side actually desires to ‘resolve’ the conflict but to temporarily eliminate it, or pause it with a ‘cease fire,’ and appear to come out ahead or at least get some breathing room. On the behavior curve, this is operating in the zero sum (0∑) or more likely the negative sum (–∑) area (take more than you give).

‘Because I said so!’ coming from a parent or a spouse is simply Conflict Management.

So is, “All right, have it your way” directed at the other spouse.

Organizationally, when a boss resorts to intimidation tactics or a tantrum in order to get his/her way, it’s merely Conflict Management (elimination).

On a larger scale, the first summer cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza fell into this category, as do all the previous broken cease-fires.

In each of these situations the case can be made that either the existing baggage is unknown (but still driving the process), or known but intentionally hidden (and still driving).

A third option is even more frightening: the baggage is outright public, but is not considered baggage (‘that’s the way it’s always been’). Considered carefully, this possibility can often be seen in cases of parenting, marriage, and conflict between cultures and people groups. Consider not only the Middle East, but Russia and the West, and even Ferguson, MO.

Baggage affects everyone. Its effects can be cumulative, from single individuals through families to cultures and civilizations.

There is one aspect of baggage that is common to nearly every situation:

Resistance to change in relationship: how we regard ourselves (insecurities) directs how we respond to our spouses and families (abusiveness), and other people groups (defensiveness). In most of these situations, insecurities (and failure to deal with them) lead to abusive relationships.

This aspect virtually guarantees an individual or group will remain in the negative sum
(-∑) area of the behavior curve.

Common is the earlier example of ‘My way or the highway’ leadership (family, cultural, organizational, or societal), which in some extreme cases leads to intimidation and/or tantrums followed by retaliation and/or punishment: Abusive parenting and marriages; cults; Nazi Germany; Russia under Stalin (and Putin for that matter); ISIS.

Suggested Response

Success in life and career begins with a healthy Self. Move to the bright (+∑ positive sum) side of the behavior curve, which means walk away from the baggage (-∑ negative sum, dark) side.

Next: Performance Reviews

About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 15: Baggage, Career, Lessons from History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Thoughts On Conflict Resolution

  1. Jennifer says:

    I like how you distinguish Conflict Resolution and Conflict Management. What would you call the reply, “I guess we’ll agree to disagree”. What kind of solution is that? You win, I lose. Or, I win, you lose. Perhaps a solution for whomever is on the “winning” end, but let’s call a spade a spade: It’s not a solution. It’s another way of respectfully or politely saying, “Get lost” or “@#$%!”


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