Exchanging Fight or Flight: Healthy Responses to Conflict - jennwhitmer.com

Jun 19, 2019

Exchanging Fight or Flight: Healthy Responses to Conflict

frozen conflict resolution

Here’s a little nugget for you, friends—we cannot live life without conflict. And each of you reading that sentence just reacted to the statement. 

Some of you just looked for the exit to this article. (Stay with me, please! I promise, I’ll walk with you!)

Others of you were ready for the action. Bring. It. On. (Easy there, Torrance and Isis.)

Others of you have become a fixture of the White Witch’s Winter Statue Collection just waiting for the Lion.

In part three of this series on conflict resolution, we’re exploring healthy responses to conflict. If you missed parts one and two, you can still go read them!

Not every response to a conflict is helpful. Some responses aren’t just unhealthy; they are downright harmful.

Some of us are prone to avoidance, appeasement, denial, or flight. These are just mock-ups of peace, which is no peace at all. Or as I like to say peace-faking is putting lipstick on a pig. Dressing it up doesn’t change it from squealing around in the background of your life, wreaking havoc with no peace.

Others of us are ready for the fight. We go on the offensive with blame, gossip, bullying, gaslighting, assault, clamor, or physical harm. These responses are Cobra Kai way, “Sweep the leg, Johnny.” The original issue is compiled by a shattered relationship from these responses that fracture the peace.

Most of us naturally lean toward one of these unhelpful or unhealthy reactions. They’re kinda like a ditch on either side of the road. How we see the world and take in information often show us which muddy ditch we like to lie in.

Instead, let’s imagine what the road looks like. We can learn to change our responses to conflict. We can exchange the natural fight, flight, or freeze for something better: actual resolution. Responding well to conflict saves relationships, builds empathy, fosters authentic cultures, and spreads peace.

Allow me to give you a bit of vision for the road of healthy conflict resolution. And maybe we can build some ladders out of these ditches. (Cause it’s pretty muddy down there…)

There are six healthy categories of responses to conflict established by Ken Sande in his book, The Peacemaker. The move from the most private to involving the most people. Many responses overlap, but these are the basic materials for a healthy road.


Overlook

I described overlooking in more detail in this post. In general, overlooking engages our empathy for the other person. Internally, we make the conscious choice to forgive and move on. Most conflicts end here, in your own mind. 


Confront

Confrontation done well raises a concern kindly and directly. When deciding to confront another person, I’ve found this three-part framework helpful.

One, the offense doesn’t create a wall between the other person and me for more than a short period of time. The closer the relationship, the shorter time.

Two, the offense doesn’t cause serious harm to others, the offender, or me.

Three, the offense is singular, not part of a pattern of behavior.

At times, you may have to confront yourself about the hurt you’ve caused. If you’ve realized you’ve hurt someone, you should initiate a conversation to admit the pain you’ve caused and sincerely apologize.

Confrontation involves a wide variety of approaches. It isn’t, “Dude, here’s why you’re wrong.” It’s questions, discovery, honesty, and more. The goal of confrontation is restoration of relationship.


Discussion

Discussion is working together to negotiate an agreeable solution to the issue. Listening, repeating back what you’ve heard, offering options, accepting options are all part of working together to resolve the conflict and maintain a healthy relationship. Discussion is coming together to find what’s right for everyone.


Mediation

Sometimes, we need a translator. Some situations just become frozen and need a warm spring breeze to help the thaw. A mediator helps reconcile and negotiate between people. A mediator can be as simple as a mutual friend or as formal as a professional conciliator. This is a positive step, not a sign of failure! Engaging a mediator means both parties are accepting the reality that this discussion isn’t coming to a solution without some help.


Arbitration

All parties agree the conflict is at an impasse. Arbitration brings in a neutral part to listen to all the information and make a decision. Everyone agrees to the resolution the arbiter makes. Do you know the famous story of Solomon listening to the sad case of two women and two babies

Two women were in a fight for their lives that also sounded like a sandbox dispute of “No, it’s mine.” With no resolution in sight, the women went before the king to arbitrate their conflict. Solomon astutely judged the real mother would save her child’s life regardless of the cost. So, after threatening to divide the baby—literally—between the two women, the real mother was plain and restored to her baby. 

The two mothers’ story illustrates why arbitration is more intense than a mediator, and why wisdom in your chosen arbiter is essential. Otherwise, the outcome could be far worse than ending up in a ditch.


Accountability

A governing body—your leadership, your faith community, your management team, or another authority—puts a framework in place to restore a relationship to health. It’s a little bit like a brace after a cast comes off. Some issues require clear and firm guidelines to keep things moving in the right direction on the path to sustained health.


We cannot walk through life without conflict. Hopefully, these tools offer you a way out of your initial fight or flight ditch, onto the road of healthy responses.

What’s your natural response? How does your natural response affect your in-real-life and online behavior? Be looking for the final installment in the series, Post or Not to Post: A Framework for Disagreeing in Digital Space.

Want to make sure you don’t miss anything of the series? Sign up for special delivery in your inbox!

Interested in Jenn doing a conflict resolution workshop for you? See what others are saying!

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