7 Perspectives on Conflict Viewed through Psychological Type – 1
by Dr Angelina Bennet

Looking on at current world events, both as a bystander and a psychologist, I tend to notice points of interpersonal conflict and hypothesise about what might be going on for the people involved.  What version of the truth are they seeing and hearing?  What assumptions and pre-conceptions are they coming in with?  What is it triggering in them from their own psychology?  How are they trying to manage the conflict?

Although the causes of conflict and the ways in which we engage in conflict can be complicated, there are several aspects of our Psychological Type that can create tension, misunderstanding, hostility or different reactions to conflict.

So in this series of short weekly articles, I plan to look at different Typological perspectives to explore how interpersonal conflict may arise and be experienced.  In this week’s article, I am going to look at how different types may perceive a situation as being a conflict, (Perspective no.1).  Future topics will look at the potential for conflict (2) Between Each Preference,  (3) from our Opposing Function, (4) from our Inferior Function, (5) between Same Types, (6) how different types may try to Resolve Conflict, and, saving the best till last, (7) the potential for conflict as  result of our Stage of Personal Development.

Perspective 1 – Different Perceptions of Conflict

Whenever a client or friend mentions a conflict issue, my first ‘go-to place’ is the Thinking-Feeling dichotomy.  For me, it is the place where most conflict can originate, and often without need; it is often simply down to how we perceive and experience what is happening.   Our Type preferences are like a filter – what we see and hear passes through the filter of our Type; only part of the reality is processed and the meaning of the experience is distorted.

Thinking and Feeling (the Judging Functions) are usually headlined as the styles we use when making decisions.  A more accurate headline might be how we judge and evaluate.  Everything that goes past us will pass through our judgement; from the biggest decisions in life right through to what we think about something that has just been said, or how someone has behaved.  No matter how small an event, we will make a judgment on it, sometimes without even registering that we have done it.  And our judgement is often based on what we value and think of as important; between the Thinking and Feeling styles, what we consider to be most important is often in opposition.  I’ll say more about that in Part Two of this series.

One of the questions I often ask when helping people to identify whether their preference is for Thinking or Feeling is, “when does a discussion between people start to become a conflict?”  The typical responses are usually as follows:
Feeling perspective:  A tendency to experience conflict arising when a difference of opinion is present and people showing signs of disagreement.
Thinking perspective:  A discussion begins to turn into a conflict when people start to get personal, shout angrily or get physical.  Everything up to that point is just debate and healthy argument.
To understand where these differences come from, we need to look at the nature of the Thinking-Feeling preferences.

Those with a Thinking preference naturally take a detached position in a situation.   By detached, I mean that in a discussion between two Thinking Types, for example, there will be person (A), the person they are having a discussion with (B), and the subject of the discussion (C).  All three parts of this will be separate elements in the situation.  So person B can challenge the opinions of person A comfortably because the aim is to get to the truth of the subject C.  It can even get to the point where it might look like an argument, but both person A and person B will be focused on analysing and critically evaluating subject C.  Often, agreeing to disagree is how these debates draw to a close.

Those with a Feeling preference naturally take a relational position in a situation.  So, in a discussion between two Feeling Types about a situation,
person A and B will be conscious of the relationship between them, even if they have only just met.  And subject C will feel like something that they each have a personal connection to; it comes from their values or is something that has personal meaning for them. Therefore, questioning or criticising each other’s’ views on subject C can feel like a personal attack.  The subject that is important to them is under attack, and the relationship between them is threatened.  So not finding a resolution can leave them feeling that their relationship is damaged and there will be a clear sense of lack of harmony.

This is why Thinking Types are likely to be comfortable critiquing – there is no sense of criticism being personal or a relationship issue.  It will be seen as helping; helping the other person to make improvements.  And they often welcome constructive criticism from others, but only from people whose judgement they respect, mind you.

The issues they tend to have that can inadvertently create conflict are …

  1. Being too blunt (g. “I’m just going to get to the point here”).
  2. Not giving any feedback regarding the positives (g. “If I didn’t mention it, that’s because it was all good”).
  3. Unintentionally causing offence (g. “I thought you would have a better car than that?”).

So the learning for Thinking Types to help avoid conflict is to be more sensitive in the delivery of their messages, to remember to give positive as well as critical feedback, and to remember that even inanimate objects and opinions might have a personal value or meaning to someone.

Feeling Types can feel uncomfortable giving criticism as they will be concerned about damaging the relationship and/or being seen in a negative light.  Similarly, they have a natural tendency to receive criticism as a personal attack; “this person isn’t happy with me”, rather than “this person isn’t happy with how I have done something”.  So they can unintentionally create conflict by…

  1. Shying away from giving critical feedback or sugar-coating it to the extent that the message is lost, sometimes allowing the situation to continue or some passive-aggressive resentment to build.
  2. Avoiding making people feel uncomfortable, for example if someone is not invited to a party they may try to prevent them from finding out that there is party happening, or if they are wearing something inappropriate not mentioning it, possibly even saying something nice about it to cover up their negative views.
  3. Making judgements about people who do not share the similar values or behaviour and taking a personal dislike to the whole person.

So the learning for Feeling Types is to recognise that criticism is not always intended as a personal attack, nor is it a sign that the other person does not like you.

I need to add a couple of caveats to mitigate any unintentional offence this article may have caused.   The characteristics and examples here are of typical expressions and responses of Thinking and Feeling Types.  The way we actually respond is affected by:

  • Our relationship with the other person. If we dislike them or have little respect for them we will be quicker to perceive what they say or do as negative.  If we have a strong relationship with them we can tolerate a lot more.  For example, some of my close Feeling friends sometimes come to me for a dose of the harsh truth as they know our relationship is solid.
  • Our connection to the issue or situation under discussion. Issues concerning family or friends can create more of a Feeling response in a Thinker than they would usually have about most other things.  Likewise, issues of great importance to the individual can become emotive very quickly.  And Feelers may be happy to drop their viewpoint in a discussion about something that is not important to them.
  • Our level of development (wait till part 7). But a quick heads up – we will react in a more balanced way if we are self-aware, broad minded and have a good level of emotional intelligence.

I could give some real examples of situations that I have observed or, indeed, created – as a Thinking Type I’ve done my fair share of unintentionally creating conflict – but this article has already gone on longer than I intended. I’ll add examples into future articles.

This article is intended to give one perspective on conflict – namely that SOMETIMES THERE IS NO CONFLICT, but our Type makes us think there is one or let us act in a way that can inadvertently create conflict.

There will be more on Thinking and Feeling next time when I explore the potential for conflict between the preferences.


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