Conflict with a Stranger- What can you do?

Conflict With A Stranger – What Can You Do?
Getting into a conflict with someone with whom you have no prior relationship is complicated. Many believe that conflict with a stranger is preferable to conflict with a friend or loved one. You have no extant relationship to ruin, after all. However, existing relationships often bring more positive results in conflict resolution than would otherwise be the case. A shared history also brings with it an acknowledgement of shared humanity, which is very useful when there is a conflict to be resolved. While emotions may run high and escalate things when a rift develops between friends, those same emotions can be utilised in conjunction with conflict resolution strategies to heal that rift. If you get into a conflict with a stranger, the only emotions and history you have together are negative – which ultimately makes it harder to reach a satisfactory resolution. Here are some strategies which may help:
Deal With The Human
When you get into conflict with a stranger, it can be incredibly easy to demonize, and to cut yourself off from their humanity. Often, conflicts between strangers end up getting massively out of hand – ending up in court, ultimately – simply because each party automatically thought the worst of the other. This is frequently exacerbated by friends and family, who will become positively ‘tribal’ in such situations, reinforcing all your own bad feelings and exhorting you to greater heights of hatred. Humans have a curious drive to demonize the ‘enemy’, which – when the ‘enemy’ is a blank canvas like a stranger – can lead to conflict escalation. The thing to do is to retain a hold on the fact that the person you are in conflict with is a human being, just like yourself. In places like the UK, courts encourage plaintiffs to meet together for mediation, in order to re-humanize one another and hopefully settle out of court or via insurance. In the US, while mediation services are available, it’s not given such emphasis and can prove expensive. Best, therefore, to avoid getting to court in the first place. How can you prevent yourself from demonizing the opposing party? Well, meeting them, talking to them, and getting to know them is a good start – but it’s not always easy to do this peacefully.
In some ways, stranger-stranger conflicts have a greater chance of resolution than friend-friend conflicts. When there is no turbulent history to rehash, focus is more likely to remain on the issue at hand, which – in an ideal scenario – can lead to swifter resolution. However, this involves going in with no preconceptions, and with a willingness to sort things out. The preconceptions you have to dispense with are both preconceptions about the other party themselves, and preconceptions about your own part in the conflict. If you want the other party to listen to you and your side of things, you must also be prepared to listen to them. By ‘listen’ we do not simply mean ‘be quiet while they’re talking’ – but actively engage your brain with what they’re saying, absorb it, consider the implications, and form your own considered opinion accordingly. Quite apart from anything else, showing that you are listening to and respect their side of things makes others more likely to listen to and respect yours. Which creates an atmosphere in which conflict is likely to be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.
Find Common Ground
As we’ve mentioned above, one of the major dangers of a conflict with a stranger is that of demonizing your ‘enemy’. In order to avoid this, it is a good idea to try and find some common ground. If you’ve created a calm and respectful atmosphere by listening to the other party, it is easier to find common ground than if you’re either yelling at one another, or dealing with one another solely through lawyers. Quite how you find this common ground depends on your individual circumstances. You may do it by asking questions, by observing the other party, or simply by going in with a mind open to your common and shared humanity. However you do it, finding common ground will reduce the chances of a harmful ‘Us V Them’ attitude from developing, and thus hopefully de-escalate the conflict.
Post written by Anne Fox

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