A large study in Denmark, reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that people who are constantly involved in conflict with their families, friends and neighbors are more likely to die in middle age.
The researchers surveyed 10,000 men and women about conflict in their lives and then tracked death records 11 years later. Frequent fighters were two to three times more likely to be dead than their peaceable counterparts.
This research adds to other studies showing that people who frequently express hostility toward others are more likely to have heart attacks.
A foundation of our work at Next Element is the distinction between negative and positive conflict. Negative conflict is characterized by “fighting” among people who take on one of three roles: the persecutor, the victim and the rescuer.
The persecutor attacks or blames others, using guilt, intimidation or fear to get what he wants. Victims accept the attacks, feeling hurt and worthless as a result. Rescuers give uninvited advice and attempt to fix others without permission.
Drama-based conflict is toxic. It results in feelings of rage, helplessness and frustration. Negative conflict is all about struggling against others. We suspect this is the type of conflict that the Danish researchers were studying. Negative drama may indeed shorten your life.
Positive conflict is different. Positive conflict involves struggling with others instead of against them.
People have differences and disagreements. That’s OK. Attempting to eliminate these differences is not healthy. Defining peace as the absence of conflict is not helpful because it dismisses the power of conflict to create new and wonderful things when managed well.
Positive conflict means being honest about how you are feeling without attacking someone else or putting yourself down. It means creative problem-solving around the real issues, not the superficial stuff.
And it means not giving up on each other while seeking win-win solutions.
Positive conflict is hard because it requires new skills, new habits and a new attitude toward ourselves and others. And it is rewarding.
Who knows, it may even add a few years to your life.
Nate Regier, Ph.D., is a founding owner of Next Element Consulting, a leadership development and communication training firm in Newton. He is co-author of “Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 316-772-6174.