One of you likes to pick fights. It’s the stimulation, the mental ping-pong match, the surge of adrenaline when you win. The other of you avoids conflict like it’s your close-talking, garlic-breathing uncle. Why? What makes us so black and white (or red and blue) when it comes to disagreements? Where does our love/hate relationship with conflict originate?

This is interesting, isn’t it?

I once dated a guy whose hobby was to argue with me.  I’m obviously much wiser now, but back then I got sucked in every time; that is, until I figured out that it wasn’t fun for me.  Hasta la vista, baby!  I still don’t think conflict is fun, but it can be important. starting with understanding why some of us are wired differently than others.

I’m no psychologist, but I think it’s safe to say that our attitudes about conflict stem back to early childhood.  The way we observe our grandparents, parents, and siblings argue makes a strong imprint.  So does our culture.  As the youngest of three kids with bickering parents (see Fighting In Front of the Kids), I believe my aversion to conflict was learned at an early age.  Another contributing factor to our relationship with conflict is our culture.  Different heritages have different attitudes — sometimes it’s gender-specific, sometimes it’s age-oriented, and sometimes it’s as simple as volume control.

If you’re comfortable with the way you deal with conflict, read no further.  And congratulations!  You, too, could be a Mediator.

On the other hand, if you are sharing a cubicle (or the master bathroom) with someone who will tell you the sky is green and the grass is blue, a bit of deeper understanding will help.  What does that person stand to gain by taking a contrary position?  Attention?  Excitement?  And if you’re more inclined to let it roll off your back in the name of peace or picking your battles, have you ever regretted not stating your own case?  Do you sometimes feel invisible?  Do you need to have a stronger, louder voice?

See?  I told you this was interesting!

There are many techniques for quieting the pot-stirrer and there are many techniques for raising up the voice of the battle-picker.  For starters, try asking this question:  Why is this so important to you?  Or, Why isn’t this more important to you?  You will undoubtedly learn a thing or two, even if it’s simply an understanding of the position.  I’m not exactly a proponent of arguing for the sake of arguing, but if it’s in the name of communication towards a better understanding, it kind of makes sense — although I think a calm discussion might be a better route to take.  Yet if your heritage is to blame for high drama and raised voices, it’s probably best if you explain that early on, and then try to understand that not everyone shares the same heritage.

Conflict resolution doesn’t have to be right versus wrong.  It does have to be about understanding.