Angry child

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Conflict is something none of us can avoid, yet despite the fact that it is a part of life from a very early age, exposure and experience don’t always make it easier. While some people thrive on it, many of us find conflict deeply uncomfortable and in an attempt to make it go away, all too often we employ short term semi-solutions such as avoidance or unnecessary aggression.

Conflict in itself is not a bad thing–it can lead to a lot of positive change and innovation. Beginning by getting the kids to sort out the pros and cons of conflict helps them see that it is something to be managed rather than avoided.

Some Pros:

  • Opportunity to resolve a problem
  • Build communication experience
  • Can lead to good changes
  • Unavoidable

Some Cons:

  • Can be uncomfortable
  • Can bring up bad memories and negative self talk
  • Is difficult
  • Not everyone ‘plays fair’
  • Unavoidable

Having students reflect on what they do when they are angry is also a good starting point and leads into conflict styles. Do they turn anger outwards or inwards? What forms does that take? Does this resolve the conflict? How does it impact their relationships?

There are a few different general styles for dealing with conflict, each with their own short and long term pros and cons.

Conflict Style Aggression
Characteristics
  • can be verbal (swearing, taunting, raised voice)
  • can be physical (getting in someone’s personal space, unwanted contact, using personal body language or objects violently)
Short term
  • aggressor can meet immediate emotional needs (relief)
  • non aggressor’s needs are not met, can feel violated, intimidated or dismissed
Longer term
  • aggressor burns bridges where there could be positive working relationships
  • non aggressor may avoid in future
  • issue is not resolved for both parties
Conflict Style Passivism
Characteristics
  • avoidance (completely or with body language)
  • may give into other party immediately without stating or fully arguing their position
Short term
  • passive person can side-step the conflict and avoid initial unpleasantness
  • easier
  • non passive person may be unaware of conflict all together, or take advantage of ‘easy pickings’. Their immediate needs are met.
Longer term
  • passive person may have built up resentment/feel victimized
  • non passive person may still be unaware of issues or continue to take advantage
  • issue is not resolved for both parties
Conflict Style Passive Aggression
Characteristics
  • most common-indirect aggression
  • takes the form or rumours, talking behind someone’s back, anonymous online posts
Short term
  • PA avoids immediate unpleasantness, while getting relief of channeled aggression/revenge (can feel satisfying)
  • non PA may be initially unaware of conflict
Longer term
  • PA may develop a negative reputation
  • non PA may be hurt by indirect aggression-relationships break down due to lack of trust
  • issue is not resolved for both parties
Conflict Style Assertion
Characteristics
  • least common, particularly when emotional stakes are high
  • requires patience and compromise
  • goal is to resolve conflict for both parties
Short term
  • very difficult for most-can feel unnatural/uncomfortable
  • requires practice, patience and planning
  • both parties get some of what they want
  • neither party gets everything they want
Longer term
  • relationships and reputations remain intact and can improve with time
  • mutual respect
  • no emotional hangover
  • problem is resolved for both parties

Being assertive is the most effective way of resolving a conflict for everyone involved, but it is not easy. In my next post I will cover a system (credit to Friends For Life) for helping students practice assertive conflict management.

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  • Have your child reflect on what they do when they are angry
  • Help them work through the results of what they do both short and long term (think about needs being met, relationships and the resolution of conflict itself

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