Understanding the Dynamics of a Conflict

Everyday, we all in someway or another participate in conflicts. We do this when our needs are in conflict with the needs of others and we also have conflict within ourselves in relation to our own needs. Although it may be difficult at times to figure out what to do, self-knowledge and understanding is always the first step in resolving conflict.

The two basic dynamics occurring in a conflict are:

Awareness of these two dynamics can be useful in preventing a conflict from escalating. Without it, an everyday conversation can turn into a situation that neither person fully understands and can leave each person feeling angry and disconnected from the other.

Interpersonal Needs
The first dynamic involves the INTER-personal-needs that exist in relation to another person. For example, a conflict may arise between a married couple. Jim asks his wife Mary for some help on a project he is working on. Mary snaps at Jim and he snaps back. Both leave the interaction feeling angry and disconnected.

Jim feels angry and unappreciated because the project he is working on will benefit the entire family. He feels that Mary should be more appreciative and helpful. Mary feels angry because she needs time to herself and Jim has invaded her privacy.

There clearly is a conflict between Jim's need for help and appreciation from Mary and Mary's need for Jim to respect her need for privacy and time for herself. On the interpersonal level, both people have needs that are not being met by the other person.

Intrapersonal Needs
The second is the Intrapersonal dynamic--we have a conflict within ourselves in relation to our own needs.

While wanting space for herself, Mary doesn't really feel she has the right to take time off, away from Jim and his expectations of her. She is not able to give herself permission to say 'no'. As a child she learned to take care of other peoples' needs and to put her own needs aside. Being a good wife was a role that fit right into this pattern of relating.

Jim on the other hand, is feeling burdened by having to work on projects around the house. He would much rather be watching the football game. Certain kinds of projects seem to get delegated to him, because of his gender and for no other reason. At the same time he feels that he should be able to tackle the project on his own. Having to ask for help means to him that he is not competent and causes an intrapersonal conflict, i.e., he feels uncomfortable with his own need for getting help.

Both Mary and Jim leave the interaction feeling angry and unappreciated. They do not understand each others' needs and their own self-judgments prevent them from understanding and expressing what they need from the other person.

Taking Timeout for Understanding
Take time out before reacting. Become aware of both the interpersonal and intrapersonal needs that are being triggered in your next conflict. Awareness of both needs can help you reconnect with yourself and through reconnection with yourself, you may be better able to reconnect with the other person.

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