Dealing with Differences

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Q I have recently discovered that it’s really hard for me to be around conflict. I find myself avoiding disagreements, arguments and especially anger between people. I just can’t stand it and wish people would simply get along and be peaceful. However, in learning more about human relationships, I am realizing there is no way to just let go of issues and differences by simply ignoring them. In fact, things at my work place have gotten worse because our team isn’t dealing with issues. I need some support in dealing with this challenging task.

A.Most people don’t want conflict, some are skilled at working it through, some avoid it and some are drawn to it. Difference, disagreement, conflict and anger are ultimately unavoidable aspects of life. Most of us see things from our own point of view. This is based on our personality, upbringing, family values traditions, interests and conditioning. That’s a lot to sort through and have clarity about.

You are recognizing that trying to “get along and be peaceful” without dealing with real issues makes for more trouble in the long-run. People also don’t work as creatively when there is tension or unspoken hurt. It takes energy to hold onto things and not discuss them or resolve them. First look at what is scary for you when people disagree or when there is conflict. Why do relationships always have to be peaceful? Do you think such relationships are genuine or contrived? Are you afraid that if differences are brought to the surface there will be more distance and separation among people? Doing this self-reflection will help you focus on your own challenges with conflict.

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Some people have had very bad experiences when there were disagreements. This includes being insulted, called names, being shouted at and even physically hurt. Such experiences make us fear that future conflict will lead to such pain again and we run from any hint of this. When serious injury has happened from such interactions, I recommend professional help. Unfortunately, abused people can find themselves in repeated abusive situations and relationships. These complex dynamics need to be understood, worked with and healed. Over time and with good help this is possible.

If you’re attempting to discuss something complex with a range of opinions or facts that are difficult to prove it’s a good idea to do some homework beforehand. Get as much information as possible, so you’re not as confused and can reference some facts. When you have your own feelings, perceptions and experiences, name them as such. Here are a few examples of statements: “I have noticed that you made these three decisions without consulting the rest of us,” or “When you raise your voice or don’t stop to listen to me, I feel dismissed, scared and unsafe around you. Then I want to simply avoid having a substantive conversation with you. I really need to be listened to when we talk.”

Having a witness or mediator that you both trust and respect is often a really good idea. This person can help hold a safe space, make sure each person has time to speak and is heard, name issues and topics, ask questions and point out differences, similarities and the progress that is made.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. (650)325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com.

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