Perception: Conflict or Challenge?

Everyone will deal with conflict at some point in life. Despite the best intentions, someone always tends to disagree and conflict ensues. How one chooses to deal when faced with conflict can have lasting health implications and can strain important relationships, both personal and professional. Learn to cope with conflict effectively and minimize the effects on your health.

Psychoneuroimmunology studies the links between stress, behavior, disease, and the immune system or more simply how your attitudes and behaviors affect your health. Stress is widely accepted as having negative effects on health and researchers have found that unpredictable stressors intensify the negative effects, people tend to feel more stressed in situations where they have little or no control. How one learns to appraise the situation explains the wide variety of reactions people experience when faced with similar events. One person may become extremely stressed while another may view the situation as a challenge or thrill, perception is key.  Perceived lack of control is just as threatening as actual lack of control.

Conflicts, disagreements, and certain stressful situations may lead to feeling threatened, so how can one successfully cope with a threat? In research published in The American Psychologist, Richard Lazarus found two important steps in managing a threat. The first step, primary appraisal, is when one must decide whether a situation is relevant or irrelevant, essentially this step will answer, “Am I okay or am I in trouble?”  In the second step, or the secondary appraisal, assess resources and choose how to meet the threat or challenge, this step answers, “What can I do about the situation?” The way you decide to analyze the situation will greatly influence the overall impact it has.

Once a situation has been assessed as a threat, people tend to cope by, emotionally-focused efforts and/or problem-focused ones. Emotionally focused ways of coping include listening to music, taking a walk, meditating, eliciting emotional support from others, or other ways that aim at controlling the emotional reaction to the situation, these efforts are most effective in dealing with situations you cannot control.  Managing or correcting the situation itself by making a plan of action or focusing on the next step is problem-focused coping and is most effective when facing a situation one can actually do something about.

When dealing with dissenting opinion, a professional conflict, or a personal disagreement, it is important to consider whether to press on or quit and try a new approach. Does it feel like a personal attack or constructive criticism?  Does the effort needed to change the situation really worth the benefits? Try to approach conflicts using reason rather than emotion, be thoughtful, not reactionary. Compromise! Decide what is more important, the need to be right or the choice to be happy, often the solution doesn’t include both. Be willing to change as new information becomes available, seek out alternatives.

Ultimately, the only thing a person controls is themselves, so make a decision and stay the course. If decisions are made from a place of true intentions without the undue influence of others expectations, the occasional dissenting opinion will not derail ones pursuit of happiness. Find the personal power each individual possesses, the power that is unfearful of challenge, respects the opinions of others, and has unwavering self-confidence.


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