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Feeling conflicted?

Everyone faces conflict on a daily basis. It’s almost impossible to avoid it because it can come in many different forms. Conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be a big argument with another person, or a physical altercation, but it can easily come in the form of ‘What do I wear today?’. Is the latter really a conflict? Ask yourself this, instead, is the latter a problem even in the most insignificant way? The true question I want to ask you today is: Does conflict have its positives apart from its negatives? Is conflict truly a negative thing?

First, let us define what conflict is. I bet you’re already conflicted with the definition, so let me offer you one that I’ve learned. Conflict is “an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals” (Wilmot & Hocker 2007). The definition is self-explanatory, but I’m guessing you’re wondering how this relates to the above example of clothing.

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Let’s rearrange the example into a study to give it some more context.

You wake up every day, do your daily morning routine and now you’re wondering what to wear. The question is, “What do I wear today?” and for the sake of simplicity it’s for work. You’re struggling between two outfits because they both look amazing and you’ve been wanting to wear them for ages, but you wonder which to wear first. Now, you’re conflicted with yourself because you’re wondering which would look better, how either would affect you that day, and all sorts of things.

You spend nearly an hour trying to decide on the outfit. You wear one, switch it to the other, but you can’t truly decide. So, you ask yourself several more questions and bury yourself into them until you decide to flip a coin because you’re taking too long to choose and you’re going to be late. You wear your outfit and go about your day.

Unfortunately, you end up second guessing your clothes here and there, but the thought momentarily leaves whenever you’re complimented. You wonder if you would’ve had more compliments or felt better wearing the other outfit. Your day goes on and you go through it feeling all right, but you don’t feel settled. So, when you get home, you take off your outfit and change into other clothes, ready to wear your other outfit for the next day.

So, the question of what to wear is a conflict—albeit an intrapersonal one rather than an interpersonal one. You’re at odds with yourself and in a way, you can say there are two interdependent parties in yourself. One part of you is cheering for one outfit, the other part for the other outfit. They both want their side to win, but because you have to choose one, they’re at odds with each other because their goal is to be chosen for the day.

You’re probably wondering, “How in the world does this relate to me? I don’t take this long! I don’t even choose between outfits!” True, but what if you have new shoes or new ties to wear? The reality is you’re conflicted with yourself on what to wear. It may not take an hour, but you’re still going against yourself to make a decision. Your decision may manifest questions and thoughts that linger for an entire day, which dictates your mood, such as the above study, but nonetheless, you struggled for a time.

Then, how can any of this be positive? Yes, for the most part, this looks incredibly negative, but there is a silver lining. You most likely asked yourself productive questions throughout the morning and during the day. You could have wondered if the outfit was appropriate for work or wondered if the outfit was good for the type of day. The idea is that you opened yourself up to questions you probably wouldn’t have asked yourself if you were able to easily pick the outfit.

That struggle was unnecessary, though! Yet, we need it to inform ourselves for the future. Here is the silver lining: you prepared yourself for choosing what to wear in the future. You prepared yourself on how to choose because you’ve made an unintentional checklist of what to wear during that one day. It opened you up to other possibilities and other thoughts!

Some people may say that the conflict above produced an unrealistic result, but let me ask you this, “Is it truly unrealistic if it’s unintentional and unnoticed?” The result occurred without you realizing it. A result always comes out whether you know it or not. It may not seem positive, but you need to keep in mind that in any kind of conflict, some kind of end (temporary or not) comes about that leads to something bigger.

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Remember that there is always a bigger picture at hand.

Let’s recap, what is the positive picture that came from the example above? You were in conflict with yourself, yes, however;

  • You opened yourself up to other questions and thoughts
  • You thought about how your outfit worked for the day
  • You questioned your outfit’s vibe for the day and situations
  • You gave yourself a mental checklist of how to pick an outfit for the future based on certain aspects of the day
  • That checklist will save you time when picking an outfit later on

Conflicts come in all shapes and sizes, various forms of degrees, but it really makes you think. It makes you wonder about other related thoughts and ideas and presents you a whole list of things you may not have thought about. Most of the time we’re unconscious about what counts as a conflict and that it can be positive but remember the bigger picture. You’re in conflict for a bigger reason which will lead to mostly positive results.

Let me know in the comments about what you think about conflict and if you believe it can bring about positive results instead of only negative ones.

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