Contention, Conflict and Language

by Brad on December 6, 2010

I’ve got several clients who ask for help in dealing with contention and conflict – both personally and professionally. They’re not alone. Life is filled with “opportunities” for contention and conflict; and to be clear, language doesn’t make things better. I recently had an interesting conversation with a client who was convinced that some situations are just “conflict situations,” as if the conflict came wrapped up in the situation itself. When I asked if he also believed some situations were just “stress situations,” not surprisingly, he said yes.

Here’s my take on this. Situations are just situations. They are 100% neutral. Stuff happens. It’s the “facts & events” report, with no bells or whistles attached. Every bit of contention, conflict, stress, overwhelm, impatience, frustration and lack of acceptance you feel is the result of … you. To life’s situations, you “stir in” your own interpretation: why the situation matters, and what the situation meansto you. Meaning is personal; it has no existence separate from your own interpretation. This is why one person can be stressed in a given situation yet another wouldn’t. Same situation, different interpretation.

Far from being an issue of blame, I see this as a huge opening to possibility. If contention starts with your interpretation, then you can change your entire life relationship with conflict simply by working to change the way you see (and therefore the way you think and speak). No interpretation; no conflict. It’s not even about the other party; they don’t have to play nice at all, or even agree to participate. Instead of seeing things through the question “what’s wrong?” (or who’s wrong?), how about asking “what’s possible?” instead. What do you think?  What’s your relationship to conflict?

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