Conflict – by Kind Communication

Re-posted From:

None of us like conflict.  Isn’t there some way we can all just co-exist together, enjoy life together, understand one another such that there’ll be no more conflict?  Isn’t this why we learn Nonviolent Communication?

Nope.  Conflict is inevitable, it’ll always be with us, and more importantly conflict is healthy and so actually eliminating all conflict wouldn’t solve our fundamental problems.  Nonviolent Communication doesn’t make conflict go away, in fact when first starting to use NVC you may appear like its bringing in “more” conflict into your life.  But first, let me make a distinction between what I’m calling “conflict” and what I call a “fight”.

When most of us hear the word “conflict” we think of Mom and Dad yelling at each other, or we think of us and our spouse pushing each other’s buttons.  People getting nasty, using hurtful words, and no resolution.  That’s what I call a “fight”. A fight is when I see myself as in combat with you; you are someone who I must defeat so that I can win.  Or a fight is when I see you as aggressive and dangerous and I have to get out of the way.  Or a fight is when I see you as dangerous but I’m frozen.  In other words, a fight will pretty much always trigger my fight-flight-freeze reaction.

But just like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares; so to all fights are conflicts, but not all conflicts are fights.  I can actually have a conflict with someone and it can be full of compassion and reach a resolution where everyone’s needs are being met.  A “conflict” is merely a moment in time where one person has a preferred strategy to meeting their needs, but that preferred strategy doesn’t meet all the needs for someone else.  An example; Bill might have a preferred strategy to watch TV when he gets home from work; this really meets his needs for comfort and relaxation.  Sally might also really want to get her needs for relaxation and comfort met after coming home from work, but for her the preferred strategy is to have a conversation about the events of the day.  This is a conflict.  It turns into a fight once Sally says “You love baseball more than you love me!” or when Bill says “All you want to do is talk, I’m tired, can’t I just have some peace and quiet!”

Here is why conflicts are healthy and necessary.  It is important that both Bill and Sally get their needs met for them to enjoy the relationship.  But if they never talk about this daily irritant for the two of them, then no resolution will come about, and thus their needs will continue to go unmet.  In other words, if Sally never tells Bill that she would really like to relax by having a conversation with him, if she in essence wordlessly sacrifices her needs for Bill, then she will grow to resent Bill and his relationship with the TV.  And that resentment may grow to a point where she just can’t stand the relationship anymore.  And the same process can happen in Bill if he never talks about his needs.  So giving voice to a conflict is the first step towards finding a strategy that meets both Bill and Sally’s needs, and trying to ignore or not voice the problem in hopes that it’ll go away will only make the problem grow.

And so here is where Nonviolent Communication comes in.  NVC invites us to be radically honest about our feelings and needs, such that it is required that we give voice to conflicts, we bring up and talk about unspoken conflicts.  And then NVC also gives us a way to keep the conflict a conflict, and stop it from escalating into a fight.  If Bill and Sally use NVC as they talk about their mutual needs, they can then find a solution that’ll meet both of their needs.  Maybe they agree to every day set aside time for both TV watching and for talking.  Or maybe one day Bill gets to watch TV, and Sally will call one of her friends; but then the next day Bill and Sally talk, and later on that evening Bill watches TV with one of his friends.

But the point is that finding a solution to the problem will never happen as long as Bill and Sally aren’t talking about the conflict.  And find a solution to the problem will never happen as long as they are fighting about the conflict.  So the key is to be comfortable with bringing up and hearing about conflict, and at the same time be committed to using compassionate language to meet everyone’s needs in the conflict. is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.