It has been over a year and counting since India went into lockdown. For all, this has been an unexpected change, some like it but most struggle with being confined to their homes. Working from home, sharing space with family/friends with no escape, and having no choice in the matter is a recipe for frustration and misdirected anger. The fear for one’s own health and safety combined with the uncertainty of the future often acts as fuel to the fire. Feelings like fear, stress, frustration, and helplessness float around catalysing interpersonal conflict.
Therefore, it is important to equip yourself with different ways to handle conflict.
There are three main styles of dealing with a conflict: avoidance, diffusion, or confrontation. Turning on the TV rather than discussing an argument is a form of avoidance. Approaching each other and discussing what is bothering someone is diffusion. Engaging in name-calling or shouting matches are examples of confrontation.
We are going to discuss common strategies of conflict diffusion that one can use in various situations, but can also apply to conflicts that arise during this lockdown period, now that it has been extended further.
Avoiding is a type of strategy where one ignores the conflict because the consequence of bringing up the conflict is more negative than positive. It might seem like the least intuitive choice, but it is the only choice that a person may have in an unsafe environment.
Accommodating is a strategy where one gives in to the wishes or demands of another. This can be a good way to concede when one realises they are wrong. It may also be the smarter choice to appease a potentially violent conflict from escalating any further.
Collaborating is the method used where each participant co-creates a solution that everyone agrees with. This requires willingness to listen to the other perspective, and openness to seek a solution that might be different from one’s initial idea. It can even strengthen the relationship due to the win-win nature of collaboration.
Another strategy is compromising, where each person involved gives up a little bit of what they want. The perception of the best outcome when working by compromise is that which “splits the difference.” Again, the two most essential components for this approach to work is willingness to understand the other’s perspective, and a clear, commonly agreed definition of what is the problem.
Each of these approaches fit well for different kinds of conflicts, depending on the relationship dynamic, as well as the severity of consequences. No two conflicts can be the same, so it is upto the individual to discern which approach would serve best for their unique scenario. However, there are patterns to the kind of conflicts that are prone to occur in situations where people are forced to live with each other 24×7 without any escape.
Mumbai is known for its matchbox homes, and conflict in these confined spaces is common especially if there are children involved since sharing living space at all times means that there will be more than one individual in need of the same resource. My clients have often compared these high-stress situations at home to their board rooms where skills like negotiation, and active-listening have been called upon. These situations can be impactful learning points. What we need to remember that during any conflict one should weigh their words and actions carefully, and no one’s physical or emotional safety must be compromised. Saying that, it is always advisable for the involved parties to reach an amicable solution. But if that fails an impartial mediator can be called upon.
Even while living in a shared space, every individual experiences a need to have a space where they can be with themselves, and enjoy privacy. During the lockdown, accessing privacy can become an issue, which can quickly escalate into a conflict. A difference in perceived need for space can create a mismatch in emotions, and expectations, especially if this is a topic with a lot of history and negative associations attached to it. The first step is always assessing your situation and the consequences of broaching this topic. Once you have your goals and consequences understood, you can make a clear decision of which of the aforementioned styles of conflict diffusion you would like to employ. It might also help to prioritise your desired outcomes on the basis of urgency/need.
While adults can adapt to these sudden changes in setting, children may not yet be able to control their emotions, and their frustrations might manifest as physical outbursts. As a parent, you may need to intervene and tell your children calmly what you observe. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, and what they are going through. Explain that it’s completely normal to get emotional, frustrated, and even angry, but that they must express it without harming others or themselves. If you get impatient, angry, scold them , hit them, or neglect them, they might learn that these are acceptable ways of handling conflicts. What you could do instead, is address the event, and if it overwhelms you- tell your child that you will discuss it with them after a time-out. You can then revisit the discussion after you have processed your emotions. It’s also important to praise children when they are being helpful and cooperative.
At this point, we only have support in the form of the people in our immediate proximity. While it is quite easy and common for conflicts to spark, we hope this article has helped you equip yourself with some simple strategies to diffuse those conflicts. In doing so, not only will the points of contention get resolved, but the relationship you share with them will also be strengthened with greater understanding and cooperation.
If you find that your mental or physical health is suffering due to unresolved conflicts despite your efforts – reach out to others for help – this could be professionals or even other people in your life who can offer support.
Unnati has an interesting knowledge of memes and Bollywood trivia. They like to express themselves through their poetry, art, and dancing. Being a queer feminist, they change their hairstyle every few months as a way of breaking out of the dichotomy of gender, and reclaiming their own body. They are equally passionate about literature and biology as they are about mental health, and try to keep acquiring new skills and information wherever they go.