Session 1 – The Dynamics of Conflict

Unit 1/6 – Redefinition of Conflict

In most cultures conflict is somewhat of an undesirable occurrence. To share and to collaborate are the main precepts of today and there’s not too much space left for fighting and arguments. This attitude is of course very productive: it helps us interact with other human beings and work together. However, it also has negative sides. Shunning away from conflict as something that should be avoided and even suppressed gives rise to unnecessary tension and fears when the conflicts do – inevitably – arise. Learning how to deal with them can be beneficial for all the parties involved and for the system at large. 

The core of the approach we propose is to treat any conflict as an invitation to changeThe origin of the notion itself is the Latin con- ‘together’ + fligere ‘to strike’ – two or more elements clash together and come into temporary disagreement. When conflict occurs it simply indicates that something inside a system is going out of sync. If we try to ignore the symptom or try to cover it up, then it will grow out of proportion or simply reappear somewhere else. And while those symptoms can be unpleasant, they also perform a very important function by slowing down metabolism and giving the body the time and space to transform itself and to heal.
Conflict is simply a sign that a system is undergoing through some sort of change. Therefore our role is to help that process of change evolve in a favorable direction (for everybody involved).

In order to do that we need to focus on the dynamics of conflict rather than on the particulars. It doesn’t matter who started what. What matters is that situation evolved in a certain way and now it is time to deal with it. At the most basic every conflict is about differences. One side has one charge and the other side has another. This polarity can produce a flow of energy or it can cause an explosion – depending on how we deal with it. If we learn to modulate this force, we can transform it into something that is constructive, generative and creative.

In the units that follow we will demonstrate how conflict can be modulated in ways that promotes long-term stability, evolutionary development, and innovative change. We will also demonstrate how the absence of conflict can in fact make a system weaker, less robust, and more susceptible.

We will first introduce theoretical concepts that provide interesting insights on the dynamics of conflict: getting our inspiration from mathematics, ecology, physics, anthropology, psychology, organizational and management studies. We will then move on to somatic and cognitive practices that work to modulate conflict dynamics in order to direct it towards a desired outcome.


“If you resist, you will create more tension. If you follow completely and fully, you might be drawn into something that you do not really desire. If you interact with attack as a proposition, adapt to it, and channel it into the direction that is of benefit, then you will harness a force that is productive and that can lead to your personal growth and development.”


Practical Task – Conflict as Invitation

Next time you encounter a conflict – an internal one because you feel “stuck”, “dissatisfied” or “angry” with yourself, or an external one where you feel that somebody is attacking you, try out the following strategy:

Think of it as an invitation to change and notice how it affects your perception of the situation and your actions. Take particular notice of the dynamics that this invitation produces, what are the protagonists (your different needs? yourself and your friend? some random people?), what are they actions, and – most importantly – how are those actions changing in time (the dynamics). Feel free to write your observations below, so we can discuss your situation if you wish…

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