Conflict and context

Daily Prompt – Showdown at Big Sky: How do you handle conflict? Boldly and directly? Or, do you prefer a more subtle approach.

I can’t give a single answer to this as, it all honesty, it depends. My first distinction is between physical conflict and verbal conflict. I have never been comfortable with physical violence and if I find myself in such situations I would attempt to defuse it and if that fails run! Fortunately in my work I have rarely been attacked physically and feel lucky to have escaped that conundrum.

My work however has brought me into verbal conflict on many occasions. This can be a discussion between friends, can be an argument over principles, can be a debate in a lecture theatre. In my own mind I make a distinction between what I believe and will argue and my attitude towards the person expressing opposing views. I will often argue in a very committed way and sometimes this will be experienced as forceful and even aggressive. Though this is not my intention I do believe passionately in my work and want to seek the best possible solutions in debate.

From time to time colleagues have felt personally attacked when in debate with me. This always comes as a shock to me as that was never my intention and indeed my feelings about individuals, with one or two notable exceptions, are usually divorced from what they believe. The tone of the debate will vary. If I’m working with students to help them think through new ideas then I will facilitate debate and discussion and stay to one side offering my views when asked or correcting obvious errors. However if I’m at a conference or event where my viewpoint is being questioned and I believe I have a view worth articulating I will argue that strongly, I hope with the backing not just of good argument but evidence too.

I have spent most of the last year feeling angry about the tone of debate conducted by government on matters relating to the probation service. Despite a huge evidence base supporting the quality of the work of the public sector probation service it is being dismantled on ideological dogma rather than carefully developed opposing arguments. After a lifetime of work in this area it is difficult to remain evenhanded when the quality of discussion is so transparently lacking. The quality of debate on TV and radio has often fallen below what I think should be experienced on such an important matter. I just feel angry about what is happening and so very sad for the many probation officers whose careers are falling down around them.

For me therefore my reaction to conflict is entirely dependant on context. Though in principle opposed to violent or aggressive responses I will argue firmly in a committed manner when I believe passionately in the principle under debate. Often though my work is seeking to find a resolution of conflict, resolving opposing ideas, and therefore it remains important to present balanced argument, to listen to the views of others and to seek resolution of difference and a way forward. These are lofty aspirations and I no doubt fall short of them on many occasions but that remains my overarching goal.

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