Conflict – what an interesting word!
Dictionary.com defines it as meaning: 1. To come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash:. 2. To fight or contend; do battle.
And there’s even a sad truth around this word – it’s everywhere.
And so it came as no surprise when a young lady in whose company I had done some work several years ago dropped by the office for a visit a couple of weeks back.
She wanted to talk about some of the “issues” she was having with a co-worker.
It seems that “everyone” in her department was having the exact same issues.
And nobody quite knew what to do about it.
She told me that not a day went by when a co-worker did not approach her to discuss their ongoing challenges in being around, and working with, this particular individual.
And it was getting worse and worse and worse.
Did I have any suggestions?
And so I decided to ask a few questions.
It seemed to me that several, or many people in the office were spending time during their days talking about this particular employee and the issues they were having with her.
They did not appear to have any difficulty in talking about these issues among themselves.
So my first question was this: “Has anyone talked with her about their concerns?”
The answer was a startled “No, of course not.”
It seems that no one was willing to approach her because she was “unreasonable, judgemental, stubborn, unapproachable, and unwilling to change.”
My next question was, “and how do you know this?”
“Everybody knows that,” she informed me.
And I asked again “and everyone knows that, how?”
“It’s because of how she acts all the time, we just know.”
And what are you, and/or the others going to do?”
“Probably nothing, we don’t want to hurt her feelings, but it’s so frustrating.”
It seems that I have this conversation all too often.
What is it about these types of situations that causes so much discomfort in so many of us?
I think it’s because most of us have never really learned how to deal with these types of issues.
What this lady was practicing was a very common, and much practised behavior called conflict aversion.
Simply put, this means that we will frequently go to great lengths to avoid dealing with a situation, in the hope that it will either resolve itself or disappear completely.
Unfortunately, all too often, the desired result does not appear. Instead what happens is that the “issue” grows over time, festers, and becomes bigger and bigger.
And the external conflict we are averting is producing a far greater, gut grinding inner conflict that frequently causes us massive discomfort.
And then very often, when it reaches a point where we “can’t take it anymore” then, and only then, do we attempt to address it. And we frequently do so through the distorted prism of anger, fury and even rage.
Not a particularly powerful strategy, is it?
So why do we do this?
Perhaps it would be helpful if, at an early age, we were taught how to deal with these types of situations in a more appropriate, and positive manner because for many of us the potential for conflict, large or small, is omnipresent and constant adoption of these aversion techniques may well cause us years of needless grief and stress.
It seems to me that if we have an “issue” with another person it is naive of us to expect any form of positive resolution will come about by sharing our frustration with another person or with multiple people.
This frequently chosen behaviour of ours is also known by another name – whining.
Rather, I think, the best thing for us to do would be to approach the other person in a respectful manner and ask if they would be willing to take some time to discuss a problem or concern that we have with them.
And it makes even more sense to me that we should, during that meeting, invest our time wisely by talking with them about the behaviours of theirs – what they are doing or saying – that we find disturbing, and not talking to them about how “their behaviour makes us feel.”
Because all we can reasonably hope for from this meeting is that they will acknowledge that their behavior is of concern to us and that they will be willing, along with us, to brainstorm ideas of how we may interact differently, select one or more of those behaviours or activities that we both agree on and then further agree to implement them so that we can each walk away from this meeting with a positive sense of having accomplished something useful and valuable.
And hopefully even salvage a relationship. Possibly even cause a dying friendship to bloom again.
The lady I was referring to earlier did not seem to view this as a viable strategy. In fact she thought the whole process was a pretty poor idea.
And she left my office completely dissatisfied.
Probably ticked off too.
Can you believe that? Can you believe she would treat me that way?
After all I have done for her.
It’s not right.
I don’t deserve to be treated that way.
Somebody should do something about it.
Oh, and please don’t tell her I said anything.
Till we read again.