WHAT IS CONFLICT? (or “What’s REALLY going on here?”)


Written by Nicole Witt for The Children’s Project

What is conflict? The simple answer is that conflict arises when there is a difference of opinion. However, people can “agree to disagree” without any negative conflict arising, so it must be something more than that.

I would venture to say that 90% of all conflicts are due to one or more parties feeling that their needs are not being met or are being violated in some way. Yes, on the surface the conflict may be about money or property or some other material object, but if we are willing to go deeper and take the time to peel back the layers, there is usually more going on.

Dr. Gerald Newmark, Ph.D in his book How to Raise Emotionally Heathly Children: Meeting the Five Critical Needs of Children…and Parents too!, lists the 5 critical emotional needs of children as the need to feel respected, important, accepted, included, and secure. Dr. Newmark suggests that in reality we all have these needs even as adults and I would have to agree.

In digging into a conflict and getting beyond the parties “positions” and into what is really driving them (their interests) in almost all cases you will discover that at least one party feels disrespected, not important, unaccepted, not included, and/or not secure (scared) in some way. Once you get to this “heart” of the conflict you can not only begin to resolve the conflict at hand but hopefully bring about a change in the underlying relationship. At the very least, the parties should walk away from the mediation feeling better about the situation than when they walked in.

So how might the lack of having these needs met in an interaction end up in conflict and how do they present themselves in the process of mediation? One of the most common complaints you will hear in the course of a party telling their story is that the other side disrespected them. What does this mean exactly? Dr. Newmark defines disrespect as treating others in an uncivil manner or with rudeness. In addition, lying is also seen as disrespectful. Disrespect is often in the “eye of the beholder” meaning that what one perceives as disrespectful behavior may, in fact, just be thoughtlessness or distracted behavior on the part of the other person. The problem arises when the aggrieved party takes such behavior personally as an affront against them. The interesting thing about someone’s perceived lack of respect is that it tends to elicit a response that is out of proportion to the actual incident as discussed by Rick Garlikov in Disrespect and Disproportional Retaliation (www.garlikov.com). Road rage is one such example.

A party might feel that they are not being accepted when their opinions or ideas are met with ridicule or are simply ignored or they may feel left out or not included when they are not involved in making important decisions. This can lead them to push in a negative way to have their voice heard. This also coincides with feeling unimportant. We have all heard that children act out when they feel ignored because even negative attention is better than none. Often times this behavior can carry over into adulthood as well.

Feeling insecure can manifest in many ways that are common when discussing the cause of a dispute. Safety is a big one. People can be afraid for their physical safety as well as that of their family (as seen in Civil Harassment type cases) or in many cases involving monetary issues, they can be afraid of not having enough financial security in the future and this drives them to push a conflict forward.

So, as mediators we can use our awareness of these issues not only to make sure that the actual mediation takes place in a respectful, inclusive, and secure manner where everyone feels important and accepted, but we can also keep these 5 Critical Needs in mind when exploring what brought the parties to mediation in the first place and how they can now solve their conflict and go forward with their relationships in the future.

About Nicole Witt
Nicole is a Mediator, Conflict Resolution Coach, and founder of SerenityAfterDivorce.com where she aims to bring peace to divorced families. To find out the biggest mistakes women make after a divorce, grab her free special report. To find out more about mediation, please visit take5forpeacemediation.com

About The Children’s Project
The Children’s Project (TCP) started with a book: How To Raise Emotionally Children, then added a program, followed by a project and now has become a movement. It is dedicated to awakening American consciousness as to how failure to meet critical emotional needs of children, and adults too, is a root cause of our recurring crises in schools, families, communities, businesses and society at large. Resources and training provided by TCP has enabled a wide variety of populations, from all walks of life and ethnic groups, to have their emotional needs satisfied. The result is more persons growing up, living and working in emotionally healthy environments – at the same time developing persons who are more likely to become independent, reliable, self-confident, thinking, civic-minded and caring individuals.

For more information about The Children’s Project go to: www.emotionallyhealthychildren.org

Order How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children in English or Spanish and learn more about the 5 Critical Emotional Needs


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