Human behaviour is always complicated so let’s simplify it a little by comparing two couples born and raised in the same culture who are faced with the same conflicts in their relationships. Both couples live in a culture that measures success by wealth and power. Both couples are high achievers who want to do well in a society that idolises winners.
Competition and Domination are known as couple number one. These two are lovers who usually walk hand in hand and are seldom apart. Even when they are apart, they continue to flirt with each other. This flirtation can be a lot of fun but sometimes turns nasty, especially when Domination tries to control Competition by imposing revenge or punishment.
Couple number two is comprised of Cooperation and Equality. These two are also lovers who usually walk hand in hand but sometimes they enjoy spending a little time apart or walking separately, confident in the enduring strength and quality of the relationship.
Both of these couples face the same conflicts in their relationships and both are well aware of the guidelines for resolving conflict. The main difference is in the way each couple interprets those guidelines. People living in a culture that glorifies winning are encouraged to centre on their own needs as they follow the guidelines and use them to gain an advantage over their opponent. Therefore, Competition and Domination have no problem keeping to the guidelines, even though they know their interpretation of the guidelines will result in one of them losing in some way. The four guidelines for conflict resolution are very simple:
- Respect your opponent.
- Listen until you understand your opponent’s point of view.
- Openly and honestly express your point of view.
- Seek solutions you and your opponent can live with.
Cooperation and Equality, on the other hand, try to centre on the relationship itself as they struggle to ignore the competitive influence of the culture they live in. Their aim is to find a solution to the conflict that will improve the quality of their relationship and strengthen it. They sometimes find it difficult to centre on the relationship itself but know they must guard against the training they received in early childhood to be competitive. They know that if they start fighting as they negotiate a solution, it’s because some kind of competition or domination has crept in and caused them to centre as individuals rather than remaining centred on the relationship itself.
People in competitive mode argue to determine who is right and who is wrong. There has to be a winner and a loser, so the aim is to win. Parliament works that way and so does the legal system. People in countless meetings across the country try to convince other members to vote for their ideas as they debate topics and sometimes an argument can become nasty. Over a lifetime, we witness countless movies and hear countless stories about people settling disagreements with the power of words and sometimes with weapons. It is all around us every day of our life so it’s no wonder we fall so easily into the adversarial way of settling a dispute. And it’s no wonder winning has, so far, been so important to us.
Instead of seeing conflict as a competition, we could change what we centre on so we see it as an opportunity to find a cooperative outcome that strengthens the relationship.
The dynamics of this apply to conflict in any situation and at any level. That is why I use family situations in my book, Travelling the Road of Peace and Happiness, to promote cooperation and equality.