At a recent lecture on conflict management, I asked, why do we hit out at others when we are in conflict. Somebody responded, ‘to balance the hurt’. I think this is true, but I wonder is it effective? In my view, when we don’t blame, we are much more likely to ‘balance the hurt’ and resolve the conflict more effectively.
In our interactions with others, we all seek to maximise our self-esteem. When we are provoked into conflict, we become defensive and negative in our interpretation of others’ motives and intentions. We can react in a number of ways, primarily fight or flight, where we will either become confrontational in a hostile way or tend to retreat and deny or ignore what’s happening. Both responses are hurtful to others and can feel like a ‘put down.
If we liken this interaction to a ‘see-saw’, one person’s self-esteem is increased at the expense of the others. This is done by one person ‘throwing’ the ball of blame and negativity at the other, who, most importantly, is only put down when they ‘catch’ the ball. Our self-esteem can only be impacted upon with our agreement and involvement. Therefore when we agree to ‘catch the ball of negativity or blame’ that is ‘thrown’ to us, we participate in lowering our own self esteem.
In this type of relationship, once one person’s self- esteem has been reduced, the only way to increase it appears to be to throw the same ball back. This has the effect of putting the other person ‘down’ and so the game of ‘see-saw conflict’ continues. It becomes a constant ‘see-saw’ of growing resentment and retaliation.
What else might one do to increase their self-esteem, other than throwing the ball of blame?
How about refusing to ‘catch’ the ball in the first place or if you do find yourself catching it, throwing it away?
When we do this, both parties are at their optimum level of self-esteem and equilibrium is restored between them. From this position, it is much more likely that you can have a constructive response and deal with resolving the issue that caused the conflict in the first place.
So, next time you are ‘stuck’ in conflict – try throwing the ball away!!!