Where do we experience conflict? A cavalier sarcastic response might be, “Where don’t we experience conflict?” (Tweet this quote.) We find conflict everywhere—at home, work, school, among friends, with strangers, and all through life. The experience of conflict knows no geographical boundaries and crosses all language barriers. Clearly, we as a society seem ill equipped to deal successfully with conflict.
To begin to better deal with conflict in our lives, we need to understand our basic needs as humans. (Tweet this quote.)
Four Basic Human Needs
Basic Need 1. The first basic need we have is for our emotions to matter to another human being. In the case of conflict, emotion is rooted in anger. The expression of anger will follow one of two directions: (1) it will turn inward and be implosive; or (2) it will be directed outwardly and be explosive. Anger always finds its form in blame or criticism, along with an implied demand. For example, the customer service representative who faces the irate customer is on the receiving end of blame and a demand to make things right and to even the score. You might even say to get even. That is what anger wants to do.
Basic Need 2. In our example, once the customer is satisfied that his emotions matter, the customer’s expectations move to his second basic need—to be understood. This step requires careful listening and repeating what is heard until the customer is satisfied that we understand the beliefs he has about the reasons for his dissatisfaction.
Basic Need 3. The next challenge in this process is to explore the depth and breadth of that irate customer’s sense of rejection. A distressed (rejected) individual’s third basic need is to gage the extent of psychological “harm” that the offender intended. This may require moving back to the first step (emotions), and second step (beliefs), to get to the bottom of the customer’s sense of rejection. This step can be quite revealing. Often deeper beliefs from past disturbances that have remained unresolved are triggered in the present-time situation. When that happens, and it happens very frequently, an individual reacts to the present situation with the emotions and thoughts that hadn’t yet found expression. And so, the complainant’s behavior can appear excessive and quite alarming to the person on the receiving end.
Basic Need 4. Finally, the fourth need of the person in distress is to resolve the issue and return their emotions to normalcy and a state of balance. In my private practice, I counsel many people who are stuck in conflict. We shift into a different persona when we are in the heat of conflict. We seem to abandon our otherwise balanced emotional and rational selves and enter a persona that is familiar, predictable, patterned, and who views the “other” as unloving, selfish, unfair, and uncaring. We seem to be covered all over, inside and out, with feelings of anger, fear, hurt—our “separating” emotions. We believe that we are being treated wrongfully and disrespectfully. So, in our state of reactivity, we want to make someone or something wrong, to strike back, or sometimes to retreat, withdraw, or withhold. We develop a myopic view of what is taking place, becoming blind and deaf to the perspective of the other person. Our “gut” tells us that we have been mistreated and that the callous “other” has violated a sacred principle.
This, in brief, outlines a starting point to better understand conflict in our lives, both in ourselves and others. The process is explained in much greater detail in my book, The Uniting Power of Conflict: A Psychologist’s Proven Strategies for Real-Life Situations.
John Hoover is a leading innovator in human psychology and organizational development. He is a unique combination of academician, storyteller, psychologist, teacher, college administrator, business coach, and veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Meet John.