Conflicts at work and in our everydays
Updated: Dec 13, 2018
Whether we like it or not, conflicts are an unavoidable part of life. Growth needs a certain level of tension, but very often, conflicts cause much more tension – both external and internal – than what we would like to deal with. So what can we do about this? How can we successfully manage a conflict? Fairytales, in their symbolic language, teach us that there are many possible solutions: we can both climb up that very high mountain (often with a helper), or we can ask a magical being to dig a path under it, or we can take an eagle or dragon and fly above it (and of course, we can also just pretend that the mountain is not there, but that may not take us any closer to our destination...). Whatever your conflict resolution style, both at your work and in your private life, whether you try to avoid it at all costs or jump straight into the middle of it, there's a few pieces of advice that fairytales have for you.
Handling conflict has many aspects, and there's a large number of fairytales that talk about those. Fairytales never tell you what's right or wrong in terms of solution strategies, rather: they help you become aware that there is this aspect and that other one, and you could do this or perhaps that, and then let you make your own decision, having been introduced to alternatives that you may not even have considered before. And teaching us that is already very beneficial, because in conflict situations we are usually so stressed that we just jump into our default functioning mode, without really considering alternative solutions.
One of the questions that fairytale ask us is: how tightly do you need to hold this issue in your grip? Can you take this situation a little bit lighter, allowing perhaps spontaneous solutions to emerge? The Valiant Little Tailor in the Grimm's tale seems to be almost childishly spontaneous, but before we dismiss his actions as immature, it's good to remember that he actually solves the situations, and managed to achieve exactly what he wanted to achieve. For example, when facing a very dangerous unicorn that has already done a lot of harm in the king's forest, he simply steps aside as the unicorn is charging towards him, making the beast get stuck with its horn in the tree trunk. Sounds like a laugh, but there is a very important message in there: in this symbolic image, the tale is teaching us that not all problems in life are best tackled head-on. Then again, there is also a danger in always being spontaneous, sometimes the constructive solution lies in keeping our eyes firmly on the goal (the soon-to-be-published fairytale of the month for December will give us a glimpse into that).
An other question to consider is: how much of 'I' and how much of 'we' is the right proportion in any given situation? In any conflict, it is a decision point – one which we very often decide unconsciously, causing a lot of extra complication – how much of my interests, my thoughts, my strategy do I push for, or if it actually serves my purposes better to prioritize the 'we' perspective, even at the cost of making some difficult compromises. If my project, my deadline, my plans for the summer vacation or opinion on which school to choose for the kids were Snow White, what would she need more at this point in time: a stand-alone prince charming, who goes in and solves the situation by himself, or rather the cooperation between a group of dwarves? And, again, there isn't a right or wrong situation, it is much more about what would be more constructive in any given situation – after all, Snow White also needed both the dwarves and the prince, but at different times of her journey.
→ Did you know that your favorite childhood fairytale can tell a lot about you and the challenges you're facing? Click here for details.
A last aspect I will mention here is one of perspective. Fairytales remind us that it is often useful to take a bird's eye view on conflicts. To zoom out, see the large picture, and then, aided by this broader perspective, make the right decision. In short: sometimes it is very useful to snap out and realize that the Emperor in fact has no new clothes: the emperor is actually naked. Then again, it is also not always constructive to maintain the outside perspective, sometimes the situation requires you to get into the middle of things. This is the classical king – court jester dilemma that many fairytales deals with. The jester is allowed to criticize the system, even the king, but in return, he has to wear clothes that differentiate him from the others. He is destined to be alone – and sometimes that's beneficial, and sometimes he would prefer to be a part of the system (like the crowd) or in the center of it (like the king).
Spontaneity or strong focus on the purpose, I or we, jester or king. Fairytales show us the two ends of the scale, and invite us to balance between them, always fine-tuning to what the situation requires of us. So how is this useful to you? Well, as you were reading the above aspects (and these are, of course, only some of the aspects...) you may have been nodding at some point, having recognized this conflict handling pattern as one of your own. At other points, you my have been confused, perhaps even irritated. Does the way the Valiant Little Tailor deals with things irritate you, or do you find it quite normal? We all have our favorite ways of dealing with conflicts, and we are often fixated in these ways – we automatically jump to them, without considering whether there is an alternative that would be more beneficial. Then again, there are ways that we are unfamiliar with (for example, conflict resolution methods that were not demonstrated by our parents when we were children, and which we are still repressing unconsciously today) that would actually be really effective, if we used them. In fairytale counseling, you take a look at how you yourself operate in these situations, and let a relevant fairytale help you internalize alternative functioning ways. And next time you get into a similar situation, you will start noticing alternative solutions, ones that you never noticed before. And make a thought-through, conscious choice in how you take your next step. And that next step may take you much, much further than you previously thought was possible.