Stephen Hecht: Conflicts are opportunities in disguise

The most common root cause of conflict is a perceived lack of respect, which is often a result of lack of communication, says Stephen Hecht


Stephen Hecht.
Stephen Hecht.

We live in a society, a culture, in which conflict is seen as negative. This view misunderstands the nature of conflict and is damaging to our ability to make progress in our relationships and to grow as individuals,” write Amir Kfir and Stephen Hecht in the book Nonflict: The Art Of Dealing With Everyday Conflict. The duo are co-founders of the non-profit Million Peacemakers, which offers conflict resolution training around the world.

In the book, they offer a three-step approach to deal with conflict—Understand Yourself and Your Partner (the partner being the other party); Understand Your Shared Reality (what’s the real underlying conflict); and Co-Create.

In an email interview, Hecht talks about how conflict can help one become a better person. Edited excerpts:

Nonflict—The Art Of Dealing With Everyday Conflict: By Amir Kfir and Stephen Hecht, Jaico Books, 133 pages, Rs199.
Nonflict—The Art Of Dealing With Everyday Conflict: By Amir Kfir and Stephen Hecht, Jaico Books, 133 pages, Rs199.

In the book, you mention four main ways people use to resolve conflicts—flee, force, fold and 50/50 (compromise). Which option is ideal?

There is a place and time for each of the options above. In the long run, however, none manages to resolve the conflict and instead creates more tension and even hostility.

Besides these four, there’s also a fifth way which is usually the best option: co-create. Co-creating considers the interests of each part, fully and equally. Rather than each party working separately to achieve whatever is best for herself, each works together to achieve a solution that is best for everyone. Co-creating leads to resolutions that are effective in the long term and help maintain—or create—healthy relationships.

Can there be a good side to conflict?  

There is always an opportunity in conflict if resolved constructively rather than destructively. We define conflict (in the book) as “the existence of at least two contradictory interests, desires, ideas, styles or perceptions, which come into contact with each other”. Conflict is neither good or bad, it’s how we deal with it that makes it constructive or destructive. 

A 2008 international study by CPP (publishers of the Myers-Briggs personality assessment test) found that an average employee spends 2.8 hours a week in conflict, which for most companies is not only a waste of 7% of their payroll, but has the consequences of poor morale and productivity, leading to turnover that is often undesired and unnecessary. There is definitely a positive or good side to having proper conflict resolution training.

What are the root causes of any conflict?

The most common root cause of conflict is a perceived lack of respect, which is often a result of lack of communication. The lack of communication happens when we don’t feel listened to, as is very common in conflict when each side is focused on their own side of the story. That’s why we devote the beginning of the book to the importance of active listening and mirroring. 

We don’t have to necessarily agree with the other side, but just listening to them goes a long way in defusing the conflict so we can move on to understanding our shared reality and co-creating. 

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