Earlier this week while meeting several friends for lunch, I was inadvertently drawn into the role of providing conflict resolution.
My friends, a long-time married couple who I have not seen for some time informed me that they invited a friend to join us and that he would be doing so momentarily.
Their friend arrived some 45 minutes late and, with barely an apology, preceded to peruse the menu and then insert himself into our conversation.
I have known Doug – Claire’s husband – for many years and he has always been a stickler for punctuality.
As is Doug’s custom, he expressed his dissatisfaction with his friend and told him he felt it was disrespectful to keep us waiting that long and assume it was all right to do so.
The friend explained that he didn’t think it was that big a deal and his quarrel was supported by Claire who didn’t think it was a big deal at all.
What started out, and was intended to be, a pleasant lunch with friends quickly turned into a heated quarrel about the importance of being on time.
Their friend Darrel, obviously rattled by Doug’s anger, tried explaining to Doug that he is a very laid back person and doesn’t pay much attention to these types of things.
Claire seemed inclined to agree with Darrel and told Doug several times that she felt he was overreacting.
The initial trigger for conflict – their friend being late – very quickly gave birth to a second, between Doug and Claire when he admonished his wife for not siding with him.
It didn’t take much time for voices to become raised and anger to present itself and it became apparent that the only thing that would be served at that table was resentment.
Fortunately, I was able to extricate myself by staring at my BlackBerry which pointed out that I needed to head back to my office to meet a client.
During my brief walk back to the office, carrying the sandwich I had picked up at Subway, I was reminded how little time is required for conflict to begin when the largest cause of conflict presents itself.
There are of course many causes of conflict but there is one that stands out and was aptly demonstrated by my three lunch partners.
In my opinion, the biggest cause of conflict is when expectations are not met and I clearly witnessed a perfect example of that very thing.
In my day job, I have been hired numerous times to act as a mediator when two or more people from the same workplace are having difficulty playing nicely together in the sandbox.
In every one of these instances the cause of conflict has always been unmet expectations and the escalation of conflict is almost always caused by the poor methods employed in trying to resolve the conflict.
In other words, the conflict has always been made worse by the attempts to resolve it.
Today’s blog is not about conflict resolution but rather it is a reminder to us all to be aware of the enormous role that expectations play in triggering conflict and to teach us of the need, wherever possible, to address and set expectations rather than assuming what will be acceptable.
Not only do unmet expectations trigger conflict but they also lead to the dissolution of trust and trust is the very foundation upon which solid relationships are built and without which all relationships are, at best, tenuous.
When we meet people for the first time we tend to freely give trust if, for no other purpose, we have no reason not to and yet, once that trust is broken it will almost never go back to its original level.
So being late may not be a big deal to you and if it is also not a big deal to the person you are meeting then be as late as you wish but before you do so, it is advisable to check first because setting expectations takes moments and healing wounds can take a lifetime.
And, given a choice, who really wants to trade a pleasant lunch for a bitter argument?
Till we read again.