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Trevor E. S. Smith | How conflict stalks us – with the best of intentions

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2019 | 12:00 AMTrevor E.S. Smith - Contributor

“I did not see that coming!” Another unintended conflict.


Conflict might be unintentionally prompted simply on the basis of how we prefer to communicate.

Recall that conflict may be hidden or suppressed and may not be openly expressed. Conflict is the existence of an unmet need. Whether hidden or expressed, conflict influences our behaviour.

The scary thing is that even the nicest ones among us could be active agents of conflict – just by being themselves!

Let’s explore some scenarios.



You have a burning issue to share something with a colleague or family member.

You prefer to think things through carefully before sharing. You want to ensure that it lands exactly as you have prepared.

Finally, you get the opportunity to share.

Before you get very far, you are repeatedly interrupted with a question or a comment.

Since you like to be politically correct, you do not express your discomfort.

However, this represents an unmet need that may remain with you for some time. It might even carry over to how you relate to the individual the next time you have something to share. This could strain the relationship.


Be alert to conflict (unmet needs). Left alone, they can negatively impact your behaviour and your relationships.

Analyse each situation and defuse their potential to create challenges.

For example, in this scenario, you could view the questions and comments as an indication of keen interest by your colleague. Having someone actively engaged in your conversation is a good thing. You could embrace that thought.

But, why not calmly say something like, ‘I see that you are really interested, but sometimes you are getting ahead of me. Can I tell it my way, please?’


You are really excited about this idea. You convene a meeting to build it out. But getting input is like pulling teeth. It appears best to terminate the meeting and to adopt alternative approaches.

Unmet needs could reside on both sides.

On the one hand, your colleagues prefer to be cautious with respect to their communication. They will speak only after they have had adequate time for reflection and analysis.

They are conflicted about the absence of a structured template and time to prepare responses to it.

On the other hand, you might take the view that one output of the brainstorming could have been the development of the said template. Now, you end up being tasked to create it on your own.


These scenarios point to the value of stepping back from situations to view them from different perspectives.

A practice that will make a difference to your management of conflict is to figure out what the other party could have been thinking.

You might not agree with the actions or what they said. But at least that opens up the opportunity for more targeted discussion of your concerns.

Hopefully, you will better appreciate their angle and also be more understanding.


You like to be connected. You really enjoy sharing information and you are never short of an engaging story.

While catching up with a friend, you notice their low energy, and the response is lukewarm.

You are taken aback (unmet need/internal conflict).

A look inside your friend’s head indicates that they are overwhelmed by information overload.


Even well-meaning, warm and friendly actions can generate conflict. We need to be alert to that possibility.

A useful tip is to get feedback from a true friend on how you might be perceived by others.


Conflict has many dimensions and comes in different forms. One constant is that ignoring conflict can be problematic. Take time to reflect on why you might be feeling uncomfortable about a situation. Review events from different perspectives and learn from each experience.

PS: Remember, I will be hosting a conflict management workshop with counselling psychologist André Allen-Casey at the St Andrew Church of Christ, 77 Red Hills Road, today at 6:30 p.m. for FREE.

- Trevor E. S. Smith/Success with People Academy, interpersonal relations and performance enhancement specialists. Providing human capacity development, technology-driven solutions. Email: info@successwithpeople.org.