Individuals sometimes encounter stress and negative emotion out of an interaction—whether or not they ever confront each other about their feelings.Wherever choices exist there is potential for disagreement. Such differences, when handled properly, can result in richer, more effective, creative solutions and interaction. But alas, it is difficult to consistently turn differences into opportunities. When disagreement is poorly dealt with, the outcome can be contention. Contention creates a sense of psychological distance between people, such as feelings of dislike, bitter antagonism, competition, alienation, and disregard. Whether dealing with family members or hired personnel, sooner or later challenges will arise. It is unlikely that we find ourselves at a loss of words when dealing with family members. Communication patterns with those closest to us are not always positive, however, often falling into a predictable and ineffective exchange. With hired personnel and strangers, we may often try and put forth our best behavior. Out of concern for how we are perceived, we may err in saying too little when things go wrong. We may suffer for a long time before bringing issues up. This is especially so during what could be called a "courting period." Instead of saying things directly, we often try to hint.
But the honeymoon is likely to end sooner or later. At some point this "courting behavior" often gets pushed aside out of necessity. We may find it easier to sweep problems under the psychological rug until the mound of dirt is so large we cannot help but trip over it. Sometime after that transition is made, it may become all too easy to start telling the employee or co-worker exactly what has to be done differently. An isolated episode such as the one between Beth and Carlos may or may not affect their future working relationship. Persons differ in their sensitivity to comments or actions of others, as well as their ability to deal with the stress created by a conflict situation. While it is important that we are sensitive to how we affect others, there is much virtue in not taking offense easily ourselves. Or by finding constructive outlets to dissipate stressful feelings (e.g., exercise, music, reading, an act of service to another, or even a good night's sleep). It does little good, however, to appear unaffected while steam builds up within and eventually explodes.
When disagreements emerge it is easy to hear without listening. People involved in conflict often enlist others to support their perspective and thus avoid trying to work matters out directly with the affected person. Our self-esteem is more fragile than most of us would like to admit (see Chapter 6, Sidebar 3). Unresolved conflict often threaten whatever self-esteem we may possess. By finding someone who agrees with us, we falsely elevate that self-esteem. But we only build on sand. Our self-esteem will be constructed over a firmer foundation when we learn to deal effectively with the conflict. In Spanish there are two related words, self-esteem is called autoestima, while false self-esteem is called amor propio (literally, "self-love"). It takes more skill, effort and commitment--and, at least in the short run, more stress--to face the challenge together with the other person involved in the dispute.