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Stress Causes Conflict that Masks the Core Issue

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell

While the holiday season is generally thought of as a happy time of year it can be stressful for many people.  Just getting ready for the holidays and visitors is stressful.  I found myself getting very angry at someone who was helping me over the phone recently and I realized that the source of the conflict was stress and worry about a family member. It had nothing to do with the telephone transaction. It was an example of displaced conflict.

Stress and Conflict

Hyperstress  happens when too many tasks and responsibilities pile up and we are unable to adapt or cope with these changes.  In hyperstress the source is identifiable, such as too many competing deadlines at work and home.  Hyperstress causes physical and chemical reactions in the body.  If the stress is not alleviated exhaustion sets in.   So at this time of year many people experience hyperstress.

Someone who is in a state of hyperstress may cause a conflict to occur that is really not about the core issue.   For example they may be upset and worried about a sick friend or parent. When they’re in hyperstress they unknowingly take this anxiety out on the clerk in the convenience store who is slow at the cash register.

There are three types of such conflicts:

Overblown conflict:  One where a relatively unimportant issue gets exaggerated or blown out of proportion.

Misplaced conflict: One that is directed towards the wrong issues. In this case people address things that are safe to argue about rather than the core issues.

Displaced conflict:   One that is directed towards the wrong person.  Displaced conflicts are generally resolved with an apology.  Have you ever become very angry and then afterwards realized how foolish you acted?  An example of a displaced conflict is  when you become excessively angry at a customer service agent who was helping you track down an electronic payment in your bank account and you have a tirade and carry on like a fool with the agent who is merely explaining protocols for tracking payments.

You have probably experienced these kinds of conflicts but didn’t know how to identify them.  Understanding what these other conflicts are about gives you power to control your behavior when you’re under stress.  If you’ve experienced misplaced, overblown or displaced conflicts leave a comment below.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Author: Ellen Kandell

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