Conditions of Uncertainty-Conflict

As many of you know, much of the work that I do in organizations is conflict resolution. That means I get to work quite regularly with pissed off people. I know. I'm just lucky I guess.  

One of the great contributors to conflict is uncertainty.


Conflict can be defined as "incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles and interests that leads to a clash."


Most people would rather stick pins in their eyes than be in a conflict. They see conflict as a threat. They fail to recognize that conflict is an opening to deepen knowledge, relationships, understanding and skills. 


Visionmakers see conflict as a natural byproduct of deep engagement. You don't get mad if you don't care passionately about something.


Rather than adopting the coping strategy of conflict avoidance, Visionmakers seek to strengthen their ability to manage two forces that lead to conflict-creative tension and compression. When outcomes are uncertain and unpredictable, both of these forces are present. They can provoke irresponsible behavior if they are not managed effectively.


Creative tension is the perceptual stretching required to hold two or more opposing realities or viewpoints. This requires flexibility, discipline, respect and patience.


Without these four practices it is easy to become positional and hostile. This leads to behavior known as snapping. Snapping means "to cause to break suddenly." In other words, the loss of self-control that can result in lashing out.


Compression is the force that "condenses, squeezes, and restricts." It has the power to distort our perception of time, creating the impression that there is insufficient time to slow down the velocity of debate and expand our vision to include perspectives that we may find foreign, challenging, even distasteful.


Balance, tolerance, patience and buoyancy are required to counteract compression.


When Visionmakers fail to handle compression, they become harshly expedient. Buckling is the consequence of compression, meaning "to give way under pressure or strain." Forms of buckling include yielding by giving power away or collapsing emotionally or psychologically from the pressure.


Notice that both the practices associated with creative tension and compression feature patience! Patience is the ability to hold creative tension and compression with equanimity-the ability to meet a disturbance without becoming disturbed.


Conflict provides a Visionmaker with the opportunity to examine their fixed perspectives; what fears they may carry; their relationship with winning and losing and being right; and how they react in the absence of respect.


This is important information. It reveals the places of congruence and incongruence in our nature.  It is one thing to espouse values and principles in our philosophy.  It is something else entirely to follow these ethical guidelines when our passions have been aroused.


Ultimately, conflict is an opportunity to deepen relationships and knowledge through the expansion of vision, not its reduction. By managing creative tension and compression, Visionmakers learn to see past artificial barriers and impediments to the heart of the matter. Issues, needs, and fears all contribute to conflict.  If they are not addressed successfully, they persist and renew ill will and aggression.


Even in the most difficult disagreements, there are always opportunities to discover mutual gain.  Without conflict it may be difficult to reach the depth of  vision that is home to such insights.


As the Persian poet Rumi reminds us, "Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there's a field. I'll meet you there."


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on August 3, 2009 and filed under Uncertainty.