Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Resolving Conflict Is No Fairy Tale

Imagine John is in a relationship with Mary and John thinks she is quite contrary about how her garden grows. She wants silver bells and cockleshells and pretty maids all in a row. John knows that gardens contain carrots and tomatoes.

In reality, as in every conflict, John and Mary simply have different points of view and points of view are always open to change (want proof? Move two feet to the right of where you're currently located and you'll have a different point of view).

But, as in every conflict that lasts more than a few minutes, one person (we'll focus on John although it could be Mary) is certain he has the truth, not simply a point of view (in a conflict, thinking you have the truth won't set you free. It will cause the other person to dig in her heels).

To confirm that he has the truth, John gossips about Mary with his neighbor and, because John is a credible source, she agrees that Mary is contrary.

A brief digression: What we call "the truth" is, in many instances, just a belief we've accepted because we've trusted the source we got it from. When enough people agree with the source, we call that "the truth."

For example, few people believed that John Edwards was having an affair when the National Enquirer broke the story. But when the New York Times confirmed it, it became a "fact" because the New York Times is, for most people, a credible source. Depending on the credibility we attach to our sources, we do/do not believe in global warming, do/do not believe in evolution and do/do not believe that Elvis is really dead.

This is why gossip can be destructive. If the gossiper is credible to the people hearing the gossip, the gossip becomes the truth whether it is or not and could be harmful to the person being gossiped about.

Now back to our story: John tells Mary he knows he's right because his neighbor agrees with him and, as "everyone" knows, because it's "the truth," gardens do not contain silver bells and cockle shells.

Both John and Mary can get what they want. How about a garden of carrots and a garden of silver bells? How about a row of tomatoes and a row of cockle shells? But, if John is certain he has the truth, which he is sure he does, he will never see these options.

Perhaps, John thinks, it's not worth the hassle of being in a relationship with Mary. Perhaps they should break up. John certainly can't be friends with Mary because, if Mary really cared about him, Mary wouldn't be so contrary. How could John have been so wrong to think Mary might be someone to spend the rest of his life with?

Far fetched? Change Mary and her garden to anyone you think is difficult to get along with: Joe in the next cubicle, your boss in the next office, a relative or friend you're no longer speaking to or any relationship where you're sure you have "the truth."

Outside the world of fairy tales, people aren't being contrary. They simply have desires that conflict with ours. We can get our desires fulfilled if we will:

1. Talk to one another not about one another,
2. Know that what we call "the truth" is a point of view,
3. Be open to different points of view and
4. Seek solutions that take into account our desires and theirs. The word "but" perpetuates the conflict. The word "and" offers the possibility of win-win solutions.

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