In these complicated times, the general level of tolerance seems to have melted at full speed, as has our patience. In the face of a pandemic with no end in sight, with ever longer restrictions, uncertainty is setting and growing. “What creates frustration, with its consequence: aggressiveness,” notes Adrien Chignard, work and organizational psychologist, founder of the Sens & Coherence cabinet. Consequence: In train stations, passengers are annoyed by the officials responsible for checking the health passport. On the phone, the users of the administrations have the slight insult.
In stores, some customers are causing scandals by offering them credit instead of a refund, “even though the brand’s trade policy hasn’t changed in twenty-five years,” adds the psychiatrist. For him, everything is going as if we don’t tolerate any more frustration. “The slightest remark is like a badly extinguished cigarette butt thrown in the Corsican maquis in mid-August: anything can catch fire!” And lead to conflict.
“The word, which comes to us from Latin, derives from ‘confligere’, which is made up of the prefixes ‘con’ (together) and ‘fligere’ (to collide, to hit),” explains Julien Pélabère, founder of the institute Negotiation skills and applied research (Nera). Conflict is therefore a clash both in physical dimensions (war, violence, etc.) and in ideal terms. “The conflict is about a difference of opinion: whether it will be expressed, and we will speak of hot conflict, whether it will not be expressed, latent, and we will create cold conflict.”
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The first conflicts arise in the sandbox. A child pulls out a bucket to bake cakes. Another sees it; immediately he wants the same toy. And so attempts are made to take it by force. “When two people desire the same object, a conflict arises,” René Girard, philosopher and anthropologist, put forward the theory. He called this the “mimetic crisis”: “The root of all conflicts is the desire to imitate the other in order to achieve the same thing as he did, if necessary by force.” And this is the source of all disputes, both neighborhood and office disputes, and bloody wars. “What you want, I want too.
Conflict arises when desire is transmitted from one person to another,” explains Pierre-Marie Lledo, neuroscience researcher, research director at the CNRS and teaching director at the Pasteur Institute. “Because seeing something about the other makes you want to have it too. I suck off the lust of others. And the rarer the object of our mutual desire, the greater the struggle to possess it.
“However, everything is done in our world to suppress, avoid and minimize conflicts,” observes Julien Pélabère. But on the contrary. It becomes latent, lurking in the shadows, ready to reappear at the slightest problem with tenfold and devastating power. “We have never seen a conflict resolve itself!” laughs Adrien Chignard. So we have to start accepting it. “We too often prefer avoidance strategies,” regrets Emma Vilarem, neuroscientist, co-founder and project manager at the consulting agency Cog’X. We don’t fake anything, we bury emotions. These grow without being able to express themselves, except in the event of an overload and thus an explosion… That is a harmful attitude in the long run.
For them, contrary to appearances, those who “get into conflict” are primarily trying to resolve a difficulty. Spats are an expression of a problem and not the problem itself; Avoiding them would therefore amount to breaking the thermometer without attempting to cure the fever. Without conflict, each broods over their frustration in their corner… Emptying pockets can be used to get the other’s point of view, to facilitate reconciliation.
But how do you react to a conflict situation? When faced with a vehement person, we all have a first reflex that Anglo-Saxon psychologists sum up in a formula: “flight or fight”. On the one hand, avoidance or amazement; on the other side the desire to fight. The heartbeat accelerates, the adrenaline rises, we clench our fists…
Both of these pitfalls should be avoided. “If we’re too submissive, our interlocutor can feel like we’re taking the lead,” explains psychiatrist Jérôme Palazzolo, author of mixed martial arts master Axel Sola, of Dealing with conflict and aggression on a daily basis (ed. Josette Lyon). The more he feels that his attitude intimidates us, the more he risks becoming aggressive. Conversely, responding to anger with aggression is a vicious cycle that can even lead to a real fight!
“You have to find a happy medium between passivity and escalation, advises the psychiatrist and professor. Maintain an assertive demeanor, don’t be afraid or at least don’t show it, be confrontational without looking for it.” Practicing martial arts or martial arts is also of great help. Posture, gestures and way of speaking play an important role in conflict resolution. Men and women are big animals. “We let everything go through a verbal dynamic, but also non-verbal and para-verbal,” the psychiatrist continues. For example, the paraverbal is the intonation of the voice. When faced with a screaming person, the so-called “low-mass” technique consists of speaking more and more softly and calmly. Through facial expressions and for the sake of appearances, your conversation partner tends to lower their voice and calm down.
The most important thing is to show that you are listening. “An angry person is above all someone who expresses the need to be understood or even reassured,” emphasizes Jérôme Palazzolo. Conversely, we are therefore very interested in multiplying the signs in this direction: nodding in agreement, sitting down and gesturing slowly, slipping in an “I would have reacted in the same way as you” … “We can also regularly rephrase what the interlocutor says in order to give him to prove the quality of our listening.” This assumes, of course, that the latter is still reasonable and offers some constructive criticism.
On the other hand, it is important to avoid the little sentence that adds fuel to the fire, like “Calm down for two minutes”. “For example, if someone expresses a strong emotion instead of asking them to stop feeling that emotion, we greet them with the words, ‘I see that you are very angry…'” advises Adrien Chignard. It is also important for him to avoid abusive generalizations such as “You cannot be easy to live with”. Of course, if there is too much malevolence or if dialogue is no longer possible, we can cut the audio and say “I refuse that you speak to me in that tone”.
Another technique that is often mentioned in scientific literature is the so-called “reframing”: instead of thinking that a conversation partner is aggressive, for example, because he is fundamentally bad, we try to identify the causes of his resentment and then the situation to analyze in more detail neutral way. In fact, a conflict usually escalates when someone locks themselves into their point of view and can no longer adopt that of their interlocutor. So that you can take a step back, it makes sense to use a third person who acts as an impartial judge.
You can also use written materials or role play. In a recent study of couples’ lives during childbirth (entitled Effects of a brief web-based interpersonal conflict (…) and published in Couple and family psychology: research and practice ) psychologists offered the partners to write every day about their conflicts: causes, course, outcome… Some were asked to adopt as neutral a tone as possible, as if the facts were being told by a third party. The others, on the other hand, were offered the opportunity to put down on paper what they felt, how they had experienced the confrontation. Conclusion: Those who adopted the first method all reported fewer conflicts, aggressive remarks, or brooding tendencies over the next two weeks. Keep this in mind if you want to stay calm the next time you give birth…
The three possible responses to a conflict
You can choose to give the other what they want without running away from or denying the conflict. Either because the game isn’t worth the candle, or because you’re refusing to participate in a superiority, or because that’s how you make the other person feel obligated to you. “Those who leave everything to their rivals nip rivalry in the bud,” said anthropologist René Girard.
It’s a natural reaction: when you are under attack, you tend to react to defend your position, your property, your opinion… To do this you need to be sure of yourself and, above all, sure that you it can stop!
This is the least natural way and yet the most satisfying for everyone. Find a reason for negotiation and an agreement. For two children fighting over the same toy, it means finding a way for both to play with it, ultimately creating much greater mutual enrichment and joy than selfish play where everyone is alone in their corner.
How a conflict swells, swells…then explodes!
The advice of Adrien Chignard, occupational psychologist, founder of Sens & Coherence
“For the sake of simplicity, we can divide conflicts into three types. The Type 1 Conflict is Caroline, a store clerk who arrives very late one morning. His manager tells him. I’m sorry. He tells her to be more careful the next day. In this case, Caroline’s behavior is contextualized: “If you arrive late in the morning, it’s a nuisance to everyone.” The Type 2 conflict occurs when Caroline is late again the next day. Her manager annoyed her that she didn’t listen to him and was “selfish”. This time, Caroline is blamed for certain character traits.
Everyone emerges a bit irritated from such a confrontation: the manager, because he had to repeat himself, and Caroline, because she heard things that were both very personal and very uncomfortable. The most serious type 3 conflict occurs two days later when Caroline is late again. In a predictable escalation, his manager explodes: “Are you kidding me!” This time the conflict revolves around the broken relationship: “I don’t want to work with you anymore.” In order not to reach this stage, it is important to “eliminate” any form of conflict as quickly as possible.
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