“To solve the most difficult problems we must radically change our thinking.” Stephen Covey

Who do you have the most conflict with right now? Your answer to this question probably depends on the various contexts in your life. If you still live at home with a parent or parents, you may have daily conflicts with your family as you try to balance your autonomy, or desire for independence, with the practicalities of living under your family’s roof. If you’ve recently moved away to go to college, you may be negotiating roommate conflicts as you adjust to living with someone you may not know at all. You probably also have experiences managing conflict in romantic relationships, friendships, and in the workplace. So think back and ask yourself, “How well do I handle conflict?”

Conflict occurs in interactions in which there are real or perceived incompatible goals, scare resources, or opposing viewpoints. Interpersonal conflict may be expressed verbally or nonverbally along a continuum ranging from a nearly imperceptible cold shoulder to a very obvious blowout. Interpersonal conflict is, however, distinct from interpersonal violence, which goes beyond communication to include abuse.

Conflict is an inevitable part of close relationships and can take a negative emotional toll. It takes effort to ignore someone or be passive aggressive, and the anger or guilt we may feel after blowing up at someone are valid negative feelings. However, conflict isn’t always negative or unproductive. In fact, numerous research studies have shown that quantity of conflict in a relationship is not as important as how the conflict is handled (Markman, Renick, Floyd, Stanley, & Clements, 1993). Additionally, when conflict is well managed, it has the potential to lead to more rewarding and satisfactory relationships (Canary & Messman, 2000).

Improving your competence in dealing with conflict can yield positive effects on your personal and professional relationships. Since conflict is present in our personal and professional lives, the ability to manage conflict and negotiate desirable outcomes can help us be more successful at both. Whether you and your partner are trying to decide what brand of flat-screen television to buy or discussing the upcoming political election with your mother, the potential for conflict is present. In professional settings, the ability to engage in conflict management is a necessary and valued skill. However, many professionals do not receive training in conflict management even though they are expected to do it as part of their job. A lack of training and a lack of competence could be a recipe for disaster. Many colleges and universities now offer undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, or certificates in conflict resolution, such as this one at Boise State University, Conflict Management Certificates. Being able to manage conflict situations can make life more productive and less stressful. Conflict can be an opportunity to learn more about yourself and others, as well as deepen your relationships and connections with the people in your life. The negative effects of poorly handled conflict, which can range from an awkward last few weeks of the semester with a college roommate to anger, divorce, illness, or violence, can be minimized by improving our ability and capacity to manage the normal and naturally occurring conflict in our lives. The ideas, tools, and strategies we explore in this book will seem simple but they wont always be easy to implement into your daily life.

In this book, you will be putting language and frameworks to the conflict experiences you have had in your life. We will be approaching the concepts and frameworks from two angles:

Mindset – Examining our beliefs and ideas about conflict, communication, and people. Developing our awareness and understanding of how our mindset impacts our approach to conflict.  The TedTalk below from Chip Huth provides an interesting look at how mindset changed his teams approach to policing.


Skillset – Examining what skills you currently have and what skills you need to improve in order to more effectively manage conflict.

I hope you  find new strategies for creating stronger relationships through conflict and turning conflict into an opportunity in your life. By the end of this book you have a new mindset towards conflict and a skillset that supports you in managing the conflict in your life. Below is a TedTalk by Amy E. Gallo about The Gift of Conflict.


Adaptation: Material in this chapter has been adapted from “A Primer on Communication Studies” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA3.0


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Making Conflict Suck Less: The Basics Copyright © 2020 by Ashley Orme Nichols is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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