It ain’t about bear hunting, is it.

In order to manage conflict most effectively, the progression then is:

  1. Analysing the situation.
  2. Setting the goal(s).
  3. Evaluating all available strategies on the basis of the likelihood of achieving the goal(s) vs. costs.
  4. Implementing the chosen strategy.
  5. Reviewing its efficacy and readjusting if necessary.

So, basically: What is going on? What do I want? How do I get it? Is it working?

(“But that clearly would take too long and then the person who’s charging towards me waving an ax and screaming bloody murder will get to me and cut me up!” Hmkay. So if you are actually being physically assaulted, this is not the time to run a cost-and-benefit analysis on legging it out of there. This approach is for those times when your life isn’t in immediate danger, which blissfully tend to happen with greater frequency.)

When you start looking at conflict with that kind of filter, several interesting things happen. You may find yourself staying calmer through the process. You’re guiding your mental processes instead of being dragged around by them. This is particularly interesting when your opponent aims to get an emotional raise out of you and fails abysmally. I find it entertaining to watch their little faces grow more and more uncomfortable and confused – but I’m mean like that.

You may also find yourself listening more attentively to your internal dialogue, and discovering that much of it is not terribly rational. It can appear as if your head is full of panicky schoolgirls shrieking in horror at nothing, or hooligans baying for blood. This new awareness may make you better able to control these tendencies, and less prone to over-reactions.

When things get really interesting is when you start noticing huge discrepancies between people’s stated goals and their strategies. For instance, if you “just want to get good service”, treating your server like a peon is not a good strategy. On the other hand, if you want to feel superior by treating someone like shit, and you don’t mind ingesting someone’s spit in order to achieve that, it’s a great way to go.

Sometimes it turns out that people are genuinely unable to connect the dots. They genuinely haven’t thought through the possible consequences of their actions. Sometimes, though, being that clueless would require an IQ below room temperature, in Celsius. Some people take up strategies that don’t help them achieve their stated goal for the simple reason that their real goal is completely different. They can’t admit their real goal because it is, for whatever reason, inappropriate; it may be petty, unethical, unhealthy, illegal, etc. So, consciously or unconsciously, they pick a “good” stated goal to use as window-dressing, while their strategies keep taking them towards the real goal. Then they can get what they really want, and act all innocent about it, too.

Please note: only point this out to people if you enjoy dancing jigs over hornets’ nests. You’d be insulting their ethics or uncovering major cognitive dissonances. Don’t expect thanks.

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