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Let's talk about the "C" word

Marik Lechner: Untitled from Dreams and Dramas Exhibition

Image: Untitled from Dreams and Dramas Exhibition - Marik Lechner

I’m not sure which “C” word you had in mind: Commitment, Confusion, Catastrophe or other unspeakable ones, but the C word I want to talk about is "CONFLICT".

Most people are not comfortable with conflict, even fewer people like conflict and generally we don’t have anything positive to say about the tiny minority of people who thrive on conflict.

Maybe it is precisely because of the last group of people that the word conflict has such bad connotations and evokes images of abuse of power, war, violence and lots of loss and heartache. Maybe it is because we were raised to play nice or ... Maybe life has taught us that it is safer to be quiet and stay out of conflict. Maybe we feel that if we admit to being in conflict we have somehow failed. Maybe we think that

conflict pertains to bigger and more protracted battles and wars.

Whatever the reason, the word “conflict” is loaded with deep seated emotional connotations and responses. Interestingly, the people I come in contact with don’t seem to have the same response to the synonyms for conflict. “Fighting, dispute, confrontation, battle, friction, quarrel, disagreement, clash”. It seems any of these words are fine to use because they evoke completely different feelings.

The problem is, conflict by any other name remains conflict.

I come across the aversion to the word again and again with clients and I think I lose some potential clients not because I won’t add value and change behaviour but because of their negative connotations to the word!

I say: “I offer sessions that help people and organisations deal better with conflict.”

They say: “We don’t really have conflict. We have a few teams that fight but no ongoing conflict.”

“I’m concerned that if we run a conflict workshop it will be like opening a can of worms.”

“I really don’t like the word conflict; it sounds so negative.”

“We have serious problems and people are shouting at each other across their desks but can we rather call it a “Communication” session?”

“My children fight, my husband fights, my sister fights. I’m basically at war with everyone around me.”

“Ja, Constructive Conflict sounds better.”

I would love to know:

  1. Do you have positive, negative or neutral feelings about the word “conflict”?

  2. What are your connotations to the word "conflict"?

  3. Which words do you prefer to describe conflict in your life?

  4. What name would you give to a workshop that deals with conflict?

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