Five Pillars of Conflict

The Five Pillars of Conflict support a conflict or dispute against attempts at understanding and resolution. Young conflicts have one or two of these. If unchecked, more pillars tend to arise. As time goes by, these pillars can become thicker and more sturdy, making it more difficult to remove them. But, it can still be done. The first step is understanding each in order to identify them as they are constructed. 

Assigning Motivation

Many times, we don’t know why somebody did, or said, something (or didn’t), yet we have a need to know. Some inner drive requires an explanation, we just can’t seem to accept “no reason”. So, we make up the reason, and may even make a game out of it. Sometimes, what we conjure up is pretty accurate. Most times, however, it is not. Creating your own narrative for someone else’s actions is bad enough, but it triggers a domino effect. It affects your view of the situation, your perception of the person, your view of that person’s future actions, and the relationship between you and them. Those are just the tip of the iceberg, too. Needless to say, Trust is damaged.

Intent vs. Impact

This ties into Assigning Motivation. Intent is something only one person knows. And sometimes, not even that many. We may not know why something was done or said. Knee-jerk reactions, unconscious bias, instincts, etc. can all play a part.  But there is a subtle yet important distinction between what we intend with our actions/words and how others receive them (impact). Many legal jurisdictions understand this distinction (for example, there are 3 different murder charges, plus a couple manslaughter charges, based on intent). This doesn’t mean that any impact is false or unjust—somebody accidentally killed is still dead. Any offense taken is still taken, even if none were intended. But, moving past the incident is much easier if the intent and impact are clarified and accepted.

Problem from Person

A common, almost routine, misstep in problem solving and discussion. Once the focus shifts to a person and away from the problem, conflict can escalate. This comes in several forms, from name-calling to ridicule to attacking the integrity of a messenger. Yet, it’s so easy to fall into this rut and difficult to get out as it almost always creates a cycle of personal attacks. Meanwhile, the problem persists, grows, becomes more intractable.

Interest and Position

A position is how you argue; the interest is why you’re arguing in the first place. These aren’t easy to differentiate or identify. Usually, we take a position that we think will win an argument. Debates are built around this format in that participants try to persuade others to accept their argument. This leads to dedication to “winning” and increasingly less attention is given to the actual interest. What you want trumps why you want it. If you win an argument, do you really achieve your interest?

Loaded and Toxic Language

Ostensibly the easiest pillar to identify: Name-calling, vulgarity, personal attacks, passive aggression are a few examples. However, not-so obvious toxicity exists in abundance. Leading and loaded questions, false conclusions, lying, sarcasm, and rhetorical questions can put others on the defensive and reduce trust. A good example is in the question, “where are you going so fast?”  Well, by responding with a location, you’ve just admitted to going “so fast”.  It’s a leading question; leading you to admit something. It takes a careful eye/ear to pick up on such examples. Using such language inhibits open conversation and trust.