Conflict – why does it have so many negative connotations? At the mention of the word, people get quite uncomfortable and flustered. Yet conflict is a normal part of what it is to be human. 

When I became an NLP Practitioner I discovered how we all operate through our own perceptions, which are distilled from all our experiences in life from socialisation, culture, relationships, media, learning etc. 

Every second of the day, we have a huge amount of information coming at us, much more than we can pay attention to consciously. So our brains by necessity, process information through a set of filters. We will delete, distort, and generalise things to suit our existing perception of the world. If we’re all distorting and changing information to suit our perceptions and fit into our model of the world – it’s no wonder there’s conflict!

I’m sure you’ve heard of experiments where a group of people experience an event and they all recall a different story that basically sums it up. We can’t fully trust our memory. Not only do we experience things differently, we remember them differently as well. Add in the fact that we humans love being right and we’ve all the ingredients needed for conflict.  Many people will argue their case no matter how trivial it is. This is true for romantic relationships, within families, friendships, the workplace and on a global stage. It leads to breakups, breakdowns, resentment, physical violence and wars.

If we look up the definition of conflict, it’s often talked about as a serious disagreement, a battle, or a struggle, with someone else or internally.

Truth is, we’re going to have conflict in life, whether that be with friends, parents, siblings, intimate partners or work colleagues. And we can either choose to confront it, ignore it, let it go or work our way through it.


Avoiding conflict

Plenty of people go to great lengths to avoid conflict. Some say they’re ‘easy going’ or ‘laid back’ and don’t want to get involved and then complain to others later on, which is just avoidance of confrontation. Others are ‘people pleasers’, who are always giving in to make people happy.

What you’re really doing when you avoid conflict is denying your needs. Perhaps you go quiet or walk away when conflict arises or maybe you simply give in to the other person to ‘keep the peace’. This strategy can work for a long time, yet in a relationship, it can lead to a breakdown, separation and divorce. In the workplace, this can lead to resentment, a lack of fulfilment and perhaps even burnout.

If we shy away from conflict and things are left unsaid, they can fester and become worse, leading to bitterness, manipulation, relationship breakdowns and even make us ill.

Then on the other hand, there are people who’ll meet conflict with anger or violence. On the streets, in the home and on a global scale, we know where this kind of approach to conflict can take us. It may start with defensiveness or attack and then escalate. When both parties are meeting conflict with anger we end up with a stalemate – no one is listening to the other and the conflict can’t be resolved.

Considering conflict is good.

Let’s look at it a different way. Taking everything into account, we’re simply not going to agree with each other or all get on all the time – there’s nothing wrong with that. It would be pretty dull if we did.

So, if we agree that conflict is a normal part of life, wouldn’t it be better to accept it and find a way to smooth our way through conflict to create peaceful resolutions?

In NLP we have some highly useful tools to help deal with conflict. One of these is ‘Perceptual Positions’, a process that helps us really see and feel the point of view of the other person involved by helping us reframe our thinking by placing us in the shoes of the person we have a conflict with. This process is best done with someone facilitating and three chairs or markers placed on the floor.

From the first chair or marker, we talk about the context of the disagreement from our perspective, how we feel about it, our emotions and any thoughts that come up. Then we shake off ourselves and move to place number two and take on the perceptual position of the person we’re in conflict with. We describe what we see, hear and feel as if we’re that person, the sensations, emotions and thoughts.

After that we move to the third chair, which is the position of the interested observer – the ‘fly on the wall’ view. From here we would take a neutral objective stance, describing what we see, hear and feel. After that we move out of position three and back to position one with all the learnings and talk about what would help us  to achieve a successful outcome and discuss a plan for resolving the conflict going forward.

Perceptual Positions is a reframe. By stepping into the person with whom you are in conflict and looking from a dispassionate third person perspective, you become more likely to see their point of view. Brene Browne puts it this way ‘People are hard to hate close up, move in’.

When we slow down to see the human in others and experience the emotions and feelings and sensations, we’re more likely to find a solution that works for both parties. Which brings me on to building rapport and another NLP tool – Matching and Mirroring.

When people are like each other – they like each other.

Rapport is a state of connection and trust. It underpins a good relationship where people consider other people’s feelings or ideas and communicate well. Whenever we work with NLP we begin by building or establishing rapport, including conflict resolution. We’re not going to get anywhere if we approach a conflict with a ‘they are wrong, I am right’ approach – we’ll get defensive or attack 

We can build rapport with anyone, at any moment, even with a complete stranger. Some people are naturally very good at this and can put anyone at ease. For most of us, this comes naturally with people who are ‘like us’. When people aren’t like us, it can be more difficult, yet there are techniques which can help us put the other person at ease.

It’s often said that communication is 55% physiology, 38% the tone of voice and only 7% the words that are used. There’s some debate on the accuracy of this, yet it’s true that much of our communication is through body language and how we speak and we can consciously use this.  

We can establish rapport through Matching and Mirroring. This involves observing posture, gestures, facial expressions and breathing and the sound of the voice, the tone, speed,      volume and the words used and matching and mirroring them subtly.

If someone is sitting with their legs crossed, we can do the same. We can match or mirror their posture, smile when they smile, lower our voice if they are quietly spoken. These small gestures give the impression that you’re like them. When we perceive someone is like us we relax and are more likely to be open, listen and have better communication.

Resolving conflict with negotiation

Another way of resolving conflict is through negotiation. This only works if the two parties agree to the process and want a win-win result. For example in the workplace, if two parties have a different proposal, we’re looking to bring them to agreement. This is done by something called ‘chunking up’ in NLP. Essentially it’s about moving up to a higher, abstract level by asking questions such as:

  • What is this an example of?
  • For what purpose?
  • What is your intention?

We do this first with the person who has less influence, chunking them up to the bigger picture and then with the other person until we get to a point where both parties agree. We then chunk back down to detail only so far as keeps the agreement and we negotiate from there. In this way we often discover that both parties want the same outcome and the conflict comes from how they are going to get there. It’s a process that’s also effective in intimate relationships, and co-parenting situations.

Resolving conflict is a valuable and necessary part of life. For some reason our society has  arrived at a place where we think it shouldn’t happen, or it’s wrong in some way.

Human consciousness is always evolving. If we can arrive at the point of looking at another person and think you are right and so am I, then we’ll see that there’s nothing wrong with conflict and it’s not something to be frightened of, it can be simple to resolve and brings us closer together.

Learning how to resolve conflict internally and externally is woven throughout NLP Practitioner training, which teaches you how to be an excellent and truly effective communicator not only with others, but with yourself as well. For more details about what’s included in this transformational life changing training get in touch or have a look here.