Impact of Conflict on Our Lives
The NEW Approach
I am thankful to the Freethinkers Forum for inviting me to
talk about a subject which concerns us all. Conflict is an
inescapable fact of life and in this conversation we will
explores how its negative impact can be minimized.
I donít want to make todayís presentation purely an academic
homily where we engage in a some nice intellectual discourse
that dissolves in thin air without making any difference in
how we think, feel or act. Instead I want to talk about
practical ways of dealing with conflict.
We all know the importance of relationships in our daily
lives; how we deal with people, how we interact with them,
and how we respond to their reasonable and sometimes
idiosyncratic demands on us. In order to meet these
relational challenges we constantly make choices for our own
behavior when confronted with situations that we find
disconcerting or conflicting with the way we think, feel and
To address these questions, first we need to define conflict
and understand its nature. Conflict is an expression of
opposing interests. It emerges when different positions,
opinions, assumptions and views clash and are perceived as a
threat to the needs, interests, finances or more seriously,
to life and security of those involved. Whenever two
people wish to act in mutually inconsistent ways, their
desire to do so causes conflict.
Conflict exists in all kinds of situations. It is something
we experience every day in our domestic, business, workplace
and community relationships.
Sometimes even when we are not dealing with other people, we
may face conflict within ourselves, although that is not the
subject of todayís discussion.
All conflict is not bad or for that matter conflict is not
all bad. Despite the negative connotation, it can be good
and creative. Conflict can be a very positive force giving
life the friction and traction that is needed in order for
it to keep going. Conflicts give us opportunities to
transform an apparently negative situation into a positive
We canít elude conflict. Given that it is unavoidable, we
have to ask, ďis there anything we can do about it?Ē The
answer is yes, of course we can, and we must, starting with
making choices that are right for us. We can deal with
conflict in a way so the resolution process is not
experienced as entirely negative but can actually heal us
instead of wounding us.
I strongly believe that a discussion on any topic involving
human behavior should relevant and applicable for
participants. Rather than discussing abstractions and
platitudes. I want this presentation to have some practical
purpose in helping us make the most of a variety of
relationships in our lives.
Now what can be more relevant than an actual conflict we are
faced with? I want to invite you to participate in an
exercise. This should be fairly easy. What you need to do
is to think of an actual, real life conflict that is
currently going on and has at least one other person
involved in it.
The purpose of this exercise is to apply the conflict
resolution methodology we will talk about today to prevent
the conflict from escalating to begin with. And if it does
escalate into full fledged confrontation, we should know how
to minimize its negative consequences for us.
Once you have thought about a real life conflict, this can
be used as a reference point during this discourse. You can
test the techniques at each step for relevance to your
Are we ready?
As you are deliberating on your conflict you can start by
reflecting on how your own attitudes, prejudices and
personality may be responsible for it.
Conflict by its very nature is an emotionally charged
phenomenon. Some of you may be getting angry just thinking
about that mean spirited person in your conflict who has
ďpurposelyĒ caused so much anguish in your life. Chances
are your opponent may be going through the same feelings
about you. In anger and frustration we tend to lose
perspective on what exactly caused it as well as what is
within our control and what is beyond it. In a highly
emotional state we relinquish the wisdom and good judgment
that is required to safeguard our best interests.
Often when we are indecisive about our next step, it helps
to have access to some objective methodology that can guide
us through various phases of conflict resolution process.
While there are many excellent techniques to help us resolve
our conflicts, what I want to share with you today is the
approach that I found most useful during my 18 years
of conflict resolution in the public sector. This approach
is transferable and not limited to just the work place. It
can be equally effective in family, community, business and
I call this the NEW approach. N-E-W is actually an
acronym. Here I like to add a caveat: I am not claiming
that this approach will bring about a desired outcome one
hundred percent of the time. Nothing can. Nevertheless,
the NEW approach dusts off confusion which hinders you from
clearly seeing what serves your best interest. You can then
take steps that may give you, if not the desired, at least
the best of all available resolution options.
Let me briefly explain how this NEW approach works. The
first letter of this acronym N stands for Necessary. Iíd
like you to go to the file in your mind for reference and
ask yourself this question: In the given situation, is the
proposed action absolutely necessary? Necessary to a point
where you pretty well have no other choice? Like mortgage
or bill payments, compliance with the law, performance at
work or visit to the dentist.
Once you have determined that the action is absolutely
necessary, take a deep breath and relax because what perhaps
appeared to be something negative may really have a positive
outcome. As you have no option, you can divert your
energies from debating what action to take to actually
taking that action.
If you know something is necessary, donít even bother
debating its pros and cons. You know you have got to do it.
Since it is unavoidable, it makes no sense to bang your
head against the wall. You may as well save yourself all
the trouble and do willingly what you know you will have to
do anyway. There lies little value in raising your blood
pressure just because you are angry at something that you
can not change without paying a price beyond all
proportion. It is quite a different matter if you are
prepared to pay that hefty price.
The second letter in the NEW philosophy is E for Enjoyment.
Even if your proposed action is not necessary, but you do
get joy, pleasure, happiness and gratification from it, by
all means do it.
The enjoyment relates to your very personal concept of
quality of life and you may not want to sacrifice it out of
a sense of obligation alone. Others may find your
subjective view frivolous, but for you it is non-negotiable
as it makes a statement of who you are and what is important
The last component of the NEW approach is W which stands for
Worthy. This simply means that sometimes a proposed action
is neither necessary, nor enjoyable, so you ask yourself:
should you still do it? The answer is ďYesĒ. But only if
you are convinced that it is worth the effort and for a
cause that you consider worthy regardless of what anyone
else thinks. Other peopleís opinion does not matter in
this case. Helping HIV patients, for example, may not be
necessary or enjoyable, but it certainly is a worthy cause
and you have every right to insist on the choice you have
made for yourself. It is reason enough that you believe in
its worth and no one has a right to deny you your choice.
Ideally in any situation, including in a conflict, when you
are trying to determine what stand you should take, all
three components, N-E-W, should be present. But suppose the
action you decide is not necessary but is still enjoyable
and worthy, well, go ahead, do it. If instead of two, the
proposed action has only one component, you may still want
to do it.
However, if the step you are planning to take has none of
the three attributes - necessary, enjoyable, or worthy- then
donít waste time, effort or energy on it. Donít even go
there. Walk away from it. It is the worst outcome when all
three components are missing. You donít have to agree to
it. Donít sell yourself short. Instead, focus on
alternatives to the proposed action.
Consider some alternative resolution options if the conflict
has forced itself upon you and having applied the NEW litmus
test you feel you have no choice but to confront the
conflict. Then what do you do?
Well, go back to your mental filing cabinet and acknowledge
that there is a conflict that needs resolution. As the
conflict is now a reality, which of the following options ca
you apply to arrive at an outcome that serves your
Here are a few options you could consider for dealing with
1. Do nothing: This option may give you some time in
the false hope that the conflict will go away but the
reality is that it will continue to simmer and may later
explode with a ferocity you had not expected.
2. Deal directly with the conflicting party.
By directly engaging with your opponent, you can go
to the source of the core issue. They might have done what
they did in ignorance and talking may help clear the
misunderstandings. While dealing with them directly, try to
understand their motives, values and beliefs. Invite them
to try "switching placesĒ with you so both understand how
each of you might have inflicted anguish on the other.
This option has the potential to backfire. Your adversary
could become more stubbornly entrenched in their positions
and become confrontational or even violent.
3. Formal avenues: You could also consider using
formal avenues like filing a law suit, approaching the
police or initiating formal complaints processes available
in different tribunals and governing bodies. These avenues
could give you a clear decision but it could as easily go
against you. Even if you win you would have a resentful
conflicting party who would want to get back at you at the
first available opportunity.
4. Conciliation/Mediation: It is possible that you
may conclude that none of the above three options work for
you. In that event you could consider involving someone who
is trusted by both parties with no vested interest in
the eventual outcome.
In this option you have a sense of being in control. You
can contribute to crafting a fair and equitable resolution.
With cooperation and compromise both sides could win. But
pre-requisite for mediation is that adversaries are at least
agreeable to give this process a chance either voluntarily
or as command performance.
Let me briefly share with you the process and you can
determine if this is what you think will be the best
approach for resolving your conflict.
The mediator first meets with the complainant (let us call
the two parties complainant and respondent) and tries to
understand the motives for the conflict. In most cases what
is initially stated as the cause of the conflict is not the
real or whole reason. In a trusting, confidential and safe
environment, fortified with the feeling of empowerment, the
complainant opens up about what truly gave rise to the
conflict and what has been their role in it.
Iíd invite you now to refer to your conflict to see
what are the underlying reasons for your dispute and also
how you have contributed to it. You are the only one who
knows them best.
The mediator then meets with the other party. Once both
sides have unburdened themselves in private meetings, the
more delicate part of the operation begins.
At this point the mediator brings the conflicting parties
together in a joint session. This is planned with great
care and sensitivity. The mediator takes steps to make the
parties feel at ease by establishing ground rules. These
rules are very simple: Thou shalt not interrupt when the
other party is speaking; thou shalt not bad mouth or use
foul language; thou shalt not show disrespect etc. Almost
invariably both sides agree to the ground rules.
The complainant is generally the first to be invited to
speak. This is often a highly emotional narration
full of tears and anger. Once the complainant has finished
speaking, the mediator asks the other party to restate what
Then the roles are reversed and the respondent is asked to
tell his or her side of the story and the complainant
Having listened to and restated each othersí positions at
length both parties understand where the other is coming
from. The mediator then invites them to define the real
problem based on what they both said and heard. This is a
painstaking exercise. If two sides can define what they are
fighting about, the chances of misperceptions being
clarified are greatly enhanced. Both sides work as a team
during this segment. The problem itself is now the real
Iíd encourage you to try to define the conflict in your mind
with maximum clarity. Are you really clear what the
conflict is all about? Often we ourselves donít understand
the complexity of the conflict and blame the other for not
Next, both sides are invited to brain storm in order
to generate maximum options to address the conflict.
Options are generated without any regard to their
practicality or reasonableness. These should be numerous
enough so the solution must come from one or more of the
Having exhausted all possible options, the parties are
invited to evaluate those they think are realistic
and achievable. Based on the agreed suggestions, which come
from the parties themselves, an agreement is reached
which can be formalized and made binding if necessary,
thus hopefully bringing the conflict to a mutually
acceptable and beneficial closure.
CONCLUSION: In the end I would like to add a few short tips
to make the conflict resolution process a positive and
productive experience which adds value to your life
rather than diminishing it.
Ensure that you do your. Resolve conflict with cooperation
and agreement, not with hostility or driven by a desire for
Diffuse the situation, donít infuse it.
Be honest with yourself.
Negotiate from strength. Magnanimity comes only from self
assurance and confidence.
Follow the Golden Rule. Wish for others what you would wish
for yourself. Be generous.
Be on your own side. Sometimes we are the biggest obstacle
in the way of our own best interests in conflict
Be ready to walk away. Often the most effective strategy is
having the self confidence to walk away from the offer at
Listen with compassion and make allowance that the other
side could also be right.
Be firm in the commitment to seek a mutual solution.
Accept what is realistically possible, not your ideal.
Take responsibility for creating and resolving the
Never underestimate your uniqueness. What works well in
your situation may not work for others.
In the end the real resolution depends on you alone.
Resolution lies not in the act but in how you view it and
react to it. The value is not in external things, but
how you face them. It is in your hands.
Now In this final phase, one last time, refer to your
conflict and choose the best option for yourself because you
are the one who will have to live with your choices. Gook
luck and thank you.