Conflict Resolution & Relationship Bombs
Posted by Orrin Woodward on October 23, 2010
The more animals in the barn, the more ‘doodoo’ to deal with.
One of the most important skills for leaders, but sadly, one of the most misunderstood and rarely used, a lack that leaves most people with only a fraction of the influence deserved, is conflict resolution. Whether building a tribe for business, a volunteer organization for charity, a church community, or any other group of people, the ability to resolve conflict is essential. Think of any successful city, they have developed specific processes to handle garbage successfully. From gathering garbage, to shipping it out, burning in an incinerator, or placing into a land fill, all villages plan for garbage and the resolution of it. Can you imagine what a city would look like if it didn’t have a specific plan to handle garbage? In the same way, every leader must have a plan to handle conflict (garbage) in his or her organization, resolving it at the source, strengthening the relationships through a better understanding of the expectations on both sides. Conflict is like a fire, easier to snuff out when it’s small, but nearly impossible to handle when not dealt with quickly. Imagine going to bed at night, glancing into the corner, you notice a small flame flickering; but, deciding to ignore it, you go to bed, thinking you will address it in the morning. Probably not a good plan if you like your house. Just as, not addressing conflict, is not a good plan, if you would like to maintain your relationships. A famous bumper sticker read, and I am going to paraphrase for younger ears, “Doodoo Occurs.” ‘Doodoo’ will occur in all of your relationships. It’s a given, because we are all imperfect human beings. There is no such thing as a ‘no maintenance’ relationship, so how one maintains key relationships is critical in one’s ability to lead.
Hurt feelings, which lead to conflict, start when one’s expectations of another person’s responsibilities and commitments are left unfulfilled. This can happen for many reasons, some as innocent as a lack of communication about one’s expectation. Meaning, that its hard to fulfill a commitment that one is unaware they are committed to. For example, if I was expected to pick up my wife at 5 pm and go to dinner, it would probably help if I knew that was the plan. It would be easy for me to miss this responsibility, if I did not clearly understand this was the plan. Personally, I have lost count of the number of times that people were hurt over expectations not clearly delineated. Expectations are taught through the cultures formed in each community, but also through conversations between individual members. When expectations are not fulfilled, an essential principle is to not assume the worst in others behaviors. Perhaps they just didn’t understand what the expectations were. Sitting down quickly with the other party, lovingly addressing the situation, and apologizing for your role in mix up, will do wonders in restoring the bonds of friendship, strengthening the speed of trust in your relationships. Everyone in the community is responsible to convey the mutual expectations in each relationship. Improved communication will nip conflict at its source, reducing issues to deal with, since most people want to perform up to the expectations of others.
But even when the expectations are spelled out, conflict will still happen, We are human beings, capable of so much good, but also, imperfect, impetuous, unreasonable, not to mention over-emotional at times. The Bible states, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Love in a community is the bond that holds relationship together when disappointments occur. Only a coward will dwell on his hurts, running the hurts over and over again in their mind, like an never ending instant replay, while avoiding the only person able to salve his wound. Cowards prefer their hurt feelings over a restored relationship. As the old saying goes, “Bitterness and resentment is like drinking poison expecting someone else to die.” Don’t get bitter, but do get braver, brave enough to sit down with the other person, seeking to understand why the expectations on both sides are unfulfilled. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, moving into how to resolve conflict, until we understand a few of the major ‘relationship bombs’ to avoid in any conflict. Improper conflict resolution can take a small issue, one easily resolved in a couple of hours, and, through the violation of the principles ruin life long friendships; simply because, the offended party preferred to nurse the hurt rather than nurture the relationship. How sad for both parties, not to mention the community, suffering from the residual damage associated with the immature actions from one, if not both, parties.
Let me address a few ‘relationship bombs’ that are sure to damage, if not ruin relationships. These bombs must be removed permanently from your arsenal of leadership tools. The are not healthy, productive, or God-centered. Any community committing to eliminate ‘relationship bombs’ will thrive in today’s bomb throwing world. However, if the culture of a community approves relationship bombing, restorations become more difficult and the required apologies much deeper if restoration is to be made. Here are several ‘relationship bombs’ to avoid: the first, dwelling on hurts without addressing to the appropriate party; the second, gossiping to others while unwilling to discuss with the other party. There are multiple factors in each ‘relationship bomb, so let’s evaluate them, learning which areas to focus on for improvement.
The first ‘relationship bomb’ is when a person, hurting by another person’s actions, instead of addressing the other person, chooses to nurse the hurt, building bitterness and resentment, while the other person remains clueless of the brewing conflict. Every person must make it a rule for themselves, that, if they think about a hurt more than once, meaning they cannot forgive it the first time, then they need to address as soon as humanly possible with the other party directly. But not in a spirit of attacking, instead, in a spirit of understanding. Too often, it seems that the offended party, by judging others actions, plays God, assigning malicious motives to others actions, without giving the others the benefit of the doubt. It’s hard enough to determine your own motives, let alone omnisciently know the motives of others. Stop playing God and start being a friend to others when in a conflict. By assuming the best of intentions to the other party, one will find less bitterness, and more a spirit of conciliation, reflecting less on the hurt and more on the time of fellowship with the troubled relationship.
A second factor that hinders conflict resolution is the near limitless ability of human beings to self deceive themselves. Self deception allows one to place all the blame, all the responsibility and all the apologies to the other party, leaving themselves only with all the hurt. Is it even possible for one side to be totally innocent while the other side completely to blame? In order to combat self deception, pause before you judge, pray before you become bitter, think about the entire situation from the vantage point of the other participant, perhaps you did play a part. Empathy is the ability to view the situation from the other person’s perspective, and it’s essential in combating self deception. Empathy frees you let go of offenses by understanding the conflict from the other side of the table, replacing a judgmental spirit with a graceful forgiving spirit. Think through the chain of events, asking yourself, “What could I have done differently?” By making each conflict a ‘teachable moment”, one learns many lesson to apply in the future. The bigger the leader, the quicker he is to take responsibility, seeking resolution for the benefit of the entire community. The leaders always apologizes first, focuses on the other person’s position, addressing the issue, but not attacking the person.
A third factor that reduces the chances of restoration is holding onto hurts to justify quitting the community or tribe. If someone is too scared to make the changes confronting them, then many times, they will seek conflict, hoping to use the conflict as a justification for quitting the community. For example, if someone isn’t growing personally, and is unwilling to endure the pain of changing, a common technique to reduce the angst, is to generate conflict. Sometimes its at the subconscious level, but they create conflict to justify quitting, making the conflict, instead of unaddressed growth issues, as the reason for exiting, saying things like, “Well, so and so hurt me, how can I possibly continue?” Of course, they won’t sit down and address the conflict, for fear that it may get resolved if they did that, thus eliminating their justification for quitting during the painful change process. People looking for an excuse will avoid conflict resolution at all cost, or else, their humpty-dumpty justifications will fall to apart, never to be put back together again. Make it a goal, to never be the reason another person quits your community. Remember, hurting people hurt people, so conflict will happen. But, instead of having a judging spirit, do your best to have a spirit of grace, empathizing with their fears of inadequacy until they realize their own potential.
The second ‘relationship bomb’ is endemic in our modern culture – gossip. When conflict is not resolved, it doesn’t go away, but only goes underground. Conflict will be talked about either way, if not with the people involved, then with everyone else not involved. Gossip is used to justify one’s positions to others when they cannot be justified in a legitimate resolution process. Sadly, more communities and tribes have been destroyed by this cowardly behavior than nearly any other single behavioral issue. Gossip is one of the most cowardly, but also common behaviors known to mankind. It happens when a party feels hurt, but is unwilling or unable to sit down with other party to resolve the conflict. Because resolution has not occurred, one or both parties will seek to justify their position by character assassinating the other person’s actions and motives. Sadly, this only hurts many innocent people who should never be privy to others dirty laundry. Can you imagine showing your neighbors all your garbage in your house before bagging it up and throwing out? Can you imagine your neighbor coming over and dumping garbage on your front lawn? When someone comes to dump on you or when you plan on dumping on others, think to yourself, why are you involving others in the process unless they are part of the solution to bring both parties together. Gossip destroys relationship, destroys trust and destroys reputations throughout a community. Leaders must protect the reputations of others by closing the circle and not expanding it, seeking justification for their side of the conflict. Anyone desiring a large community must master conflict resolution and teach it into the culture, having no patience for endless gossip. If someone gossips to you, ask them, “Can I quote you on this?” Let the gossiper know that you are taking this information directly to the person gossiped about. This will do two key things. One, it let’s people know that you are not a person who feeds gossip. Second, when you go to harmed party, the one gossiped about, you build his trust by not keeping secrets, and ending the merry-go-round of gossip. Garbage must be cleaned out of a culture, not cultivated in it.
When gossip is allowed to fester in a community, reputations are destroyed. Biblically, character assassinations are just one level removed from an actual assassination. Do not play with this fire, put it out quickly, upholding the reputations of all involved, seeking to put on fires, not fan them. I have been blessed with many long term relationships. I think of my wife of eighteen years, my friendship with leaders like Chris Brady and George Guzzardo in business over fifteen years. In this amount of time, do you think it’s possible that conflict may have sprung up in each of these relationship? Of course, but by practicing the methods of conflict resolution, each of these relationships has become stronger with time, stronger, because each party refused to run to third parties to defend their positions, ruining the reputation of others for selfish justifications. Value your friends reputation more than you value your positions, protecting the relationship for the long term. But if you value your position more than you value your friends, you begin to slide down the slippery slope of character assassination and conflict resolution procrastination. The world is filled with people, who, unwilling to improve themselves, choose instead to tear down, making themselves feel higher by lowering others. Refuse to play the game, rather, choose to be like the biggest leaders, who speak all the good they can of others. The biggest leaders do speak behind others backs, but they speak only all the good things about others. Nothing builds trust like building others up, whether in their presence or with their friends and them absent. When someone comes to you in an attempt to cast aspersion on another person’s character, your role shouldn’t be to take sides, but become a facilitator for restoration. You may not have asked for the role, but when a leader is drawn into the circle by gossip, he becomes part of the solution, not part of the problem, telling people, either go back to the person and address alone, or both of us can go to the person and address. This is the only two options since proper leadership doesn’t gossip, but it does address and resolve. God Bless, Orrin Woodward