Friday, March 06, 2009

Dealing with confilct

Thursday afternoon is the day that the next week's work assignment is posted at my office. Like many worksites, there are certain tasks that nobody particularly enjoys doing but have to be done by somebody. And every week there is always at least one person who finds dissatisfaction in their assignment and will give their input to the manager after the schedule is posted.

In my previous job, that scheduling manager was me. It seemed that no matter how fair I tried to be in task assignment there would be at least one person who cried "Unfair!" I would sit down with the employee and the two of us would review the schedule. If it was determined that an error was made or there was a legitimate issue, a correction or compromise would be worked out. But if it turned out to be just a complaint, I had to be the intransigent one (look it up) and the task assignment stayed as originally posted. I didn't look forward to the weekly conflict, and I endured my fair share of stink-eye from it. But in the end I had to stand my ground, and my leadership was respected because of it.

Unfortunately not all conflicts are between leaders and persons they are responsible for leading. If you are, or ever have been, married then you know exactly what I mean. You can't have two different, opposing viewpoints and have only one "right" one. That would be like wearing two left shoes. One foot would have a perfect fit; the other will let you know every chance it gets that you are painfully wrong.

God does not want us to go through life in a perpetual state of conflict with each other. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18). So what does that look like? What are some things that we can do to ease the tension caused from having conflict in our lives? I'm no expert, but here are some things I've learned from my experience and watching the experiences of others:
  1. Pray about the situation. Invite God to intervene in the process. Ask Him to reveal to you what the bottom line issue really is. Many times the source of conflict is a mere misunderstanding. Sometimes it is more than that. And sometimes it's something that only God can supernaturally resolve.
  2. Work things out promptly. A friend of mine shared with me that whenever he would put towels away when he was first married, he would see the next day that his wife had taken them all out and re-folded them. Since he wanted to be helpful in the household work for his new bride, and he didn't want his efforts to be wasted, he asked her to teach him the "proper" method of folding and storing bath towels. This little lesson eliminated a source of frustration for the both of them.
  3. Stick to the issue. The conflict with the method of towel folding could have turned into a huge arguement about "You don't like what I do, no matter how hard I try!" "You can't do anything right!" further escalating into personal jabs, causing a lot of tears and resentment. Instead they stuck to the core issue: "Show me how I can better help you."
  4. Resolve conflict at the lowest level. You want to watch the superhero action flick you just received from Netflix; she wants to watch her sappy chickflick dvd for the millionth time. You live in the TV stone-age, with only one TV in the house. Does it really take a miediator to tell you that you might be better off watching your wedding video together, laugh at Uncle Vito's bad hairpiece, and reminisce about why you fell in love in the first place?
  5. Vent to a trustworthy friend. Don't keep the stress bottled up inside of you. Sometimes just taling it out can help you see where you may be wrong in your position, and where there may be room for compromise.
  6. Work together to work out an agreement. If you find you are having difficulty in this, ask for help from a neutral third party, someone who can see past the issues and guide you to an acceptable solution that is favorable to everyone involved.
Because we are all individuals with our own God-given uniqueness, there will always be some degree of conflict among us. Are these methods of dealing with it 100% effective? No, not always. Do what you can to live at peace with each other. Even if it means you end up back at step 1 over and over again.

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