Conflict Resolution or Conflict Transformation?

“I think everyone is hurting. I often think Jamaica is a place filled with wounded people looking for band aids.”

That was the comment of my friend, Teneile Warren, under one of my facebook status updates, where I was lamenting how merciless and uncompassionate we have become as a society, all in the name of being authentic or “keeping it real.”

“They are hurting so much and want YOU to suffer for it. But you know, it’s their problem and not yours…” my tea buddy and fellow blogger, Emma, added.

Social media has become a vicious space where dissent cannot be expressed respectfully; where disagreements turn into all our cyber wars. What is the matter with us? How can we deal with conflicts without becoming savages; ready to pounce on each other to eat up one another’s flesh?

Conflict can be defined as “a struggle or an opposition” ( This struggle or opposition might be intra-personal, in the form of cognitive dissonance, or it might me inter-personal, between two or more persons, in the form of a disagreement or misunderstanding. Very seldom do we focus on intra-personal conflicts despite its frequent occurrence in our development. Maybe it is because inter-personal conflicts are often more overt and have the potential of becoming more explosive and causing more harm. We can be certain of one thing, however. Conflict is inevitable but it can be transformed if people learn to listen actively, acknowledge when they err, and seek to modify behaviour.

When we spend time listening actively, we not only mitigate conflicts, we transform them. In active listening, firstly, the listener gains information because active listening encourages the speaker to talk about more things in greater depth than he or she would be likely to do in simply responding to direct questions or suggestions. Usually, the conflict would have developed because of misunderstanding. Gaining more information brings the necessary elucidation to transform the conflict into a moment of understanding. Secondly, active listening encourages empathy, acceptance, congruence, and concreteness. These lend themselves to an open, trusting conversation and relationship building. If you are going to listen for the purpose of understanding, you necessarily have to place yourself in the other person’s shoes. The trust built in the moment transforms the conflict into collegiality. Thirdly, active listening stimulates understanding and recognition of new avenues for action. When understanding is arrived at and trust is built, persons can now move forward in relationship or harmony.

Moreover, part of the reason why conflicts are not easily transformed is because people are often unwilling to acknowledge when they err. Acknowledging when we have erred brings us to the point of seeking resolution. Too often, parties involved in a conflict feel that they did not contribute to it and so, invest time in guarding rights rather than bringing the conflict to a resolution. The refusal to acknowledge error usually prolongs and may even exacerbate the conflict. Acknowledging error helps to diffuse tensions caused by a conflict. When one is able to say, “I was wrong” or “ I am sorry”, defenses are dropped and there is now an openness to listen and have an open conversation to work towards resolution or I prefer to say transformation because it is not sufficient to let a conflict die but to turn it into something better and greater for the good of everyone involved.

Additionally, in managing or transforming conflicts, people must be willing to modify behaviour. There is no sense in acknowledging the conflict or even having a conversation if parties are not willing to take action. A conflict is not fully transformed unless steps are taken to ensure that the offense is not repeated. It is like that person who keeps repeating an offensive action and saying “I am sorry” every time that offense is brought to his or her attention. Most definitely, this person will be in a state of perpetual conflict with others. Modifying behaviour is not changing who you are, it is simply changing how you respond. At the core of transforming conflicts is ensuring that the contributing factors are dealt with and that situation does not recur among the same persons again. Behaviour change in terms of what is done to create the offense and how the situation that created is interpreted, transforms the conflict into harmony.

Conclusively, conflicts are an inevitable part of human development and interaction. As long as we are alive, we will experience conflict, whether intra-personal or inter-personal. However, what is important is how we respond in situations of conflict. Conflicts present to us a beautiful opportunity to engender the building to great relationships. They push us towards seeking understanding and solutions and help us to build deeper, more meaningful relationships. Conflicts present an opportunity for transformation. At the beginning of the year, Emma asked a few men what is their wish for Jamaica in 2017. I did not have to think twice. I responded that mine was for a more compassionate and gentler society. In essence, it was what the other men felt as well. Perhaps, the greatest conflict that requires transformation most urgently, is the one within each of us.

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