Conflict and Ownership
People are flawed. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
We make mistakes; we yell; we lose our temper; we get short with others; we act immaturely; we conduct ourselves in unprofessional ways; we do stupid things; we stamp our feet and slam the freezer door because someone took the last double chocolate fudgepop. Basically, we all have our moments of suck.
Knowing that, one might think that we would naturally be more empathetic towards others when they behave poorly. But we’re not, and somehow, we still want and expect others to be more empathetic towards us when we behave like immature children.
Long paragraph short, we are the only person who can possibly be responsible for our actions.
When our significant other puts Splenda in the red Kool-Aid instead of sugar just to irritate us (especially if they know that the blue is so much better and insist on making red anyway), it’s not their fault that we don’t drink it. It’s ours. They’re not in control of our behavior; we are.
When the immature and petty manager at work has a short fuse and yells because the floor isn’t being swept a north/south direction (but instead it’s an east/west direction), it’s not their fault that we break the wooden broom over our knee and dump the dustpan into the salad bar. We chose to do that; the manager didn’t force us to.
Regardless of the behavior of other people, regardless of what they do to provoke us, and regardless of how completely and utterly wrong they are, we [you] are still the only person in control of how we [you] act.
Technically speaking, no matter what the other party is doing, if you have an issue with it, you’re the one with the problem. Example: If your neighbor is hosting a baby ferret fight ring (like chicken or dog fights, but with baby ferrets) for fun and recreation as a hobby and you dislike it (as we all should), you’re the one with the issue. Sure, their malicious behavior toward the Dachshund-rat creature is detestable and absolutely wrong, but they obviously don’t have an issue with their own behavior. You do.
Whether or not you’re justified in having the problem is another question altogether, but if you have a problem with something, regardless if it’s right or wrong, you’re the one with the problem.
So, the question isn’t, “Who’s at fault?” The question is, “What is the next best most right thing to do to improve the situation?”
How do we get to that point? Great question!
For you religious folks keeping score at home, this part comes straight from that Matthew book, in chapter seven or something. It’s about planks and sawdust and ownership and “hypocrites” and judging and restoration and awesomeness and it involves a block quote.
“Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
First, that Jesus fellow who’s talking here is using hyperbole. He’s grossly exaggerating to make a point, which he makes quite well, I might add. Second, back in ye-olden Jesusy bible times, eyes often had to be lanced or cut out if they were causing problems (like having random pieces of wood wedged in them or some sort of nasty secondary infection, possibly staph or tetanus).
So, this whole “speck/plank” thing is just clever Jesus-style point making. That point: You can’t help fix something if you aren’t seeing right to begin with.
How do we see right? We have to take a long, hard, painful look at ourselves and judge our behavior, motives, etc. It’s only after we’ve done that we can begin to try and restore a situation.
Sometimes we’ll see that we’ve been behaving badly and then we have to correct it. It might involve an apology, or it could just be as simple as correcting a behavior or mindset.
Or we might look at ourselves and see that we’re not in the wrong at all. If that’s the case, then you’ve just saved yourself a step! But most of the time, there’s going to be something we need to correct with ourselves. After all, we’re flawed and broken and we like to do suckish (mean, passive-aggressive, malicious, irksome) things sometimes.
For the sake of time and argument, we’ll pretend that we already looked at ourselves, took ownership of ourselves, and corrected our less-than-desirable behavior.
What now? Now the fun starts. This is when we’re not going to play fair.
In this context, “fair” will be defined as: “Giving good things to others as long as they give good things to us. Then if they fail us in some way, we respond ‘fairly.’ We give it right back to them, either at the moment or soon thereafter. Either our words or actions say, ‘That’s not fair. Therefore, I am not going to do good to you any more. In fact, I am going to give you exactly what you’re giving me. Then you can see how it feels.’” [9 Things, Dr. Henry Cloud]
That sounds like a decent working definition of fairness.
To solve the problem and attempt to rebuild the bridge, we’re not going to play by those rules. In fact, we’re going to do the opposite. We’re going to give back better than we are given because the best conflict resolvers and successful people don’t settle scores. In fact, they “run up the score” by doing good to others, even when the others do not deserve it. They do that whole “next best most right thing” thing.
Oh! I almost forgot: Anger is still acceptable. Anger is a very good thing, it tells us when something is wrong. I know it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway (mainly because I like hearing my own written voice): When we get angry, we have to immediately take that long, hard, painful look at ourselves to evaluate the situation and to check if we’re seeing things correctly or not. Anger has a tendency to distort things sometimes, and we want an accurate view of the situation.
Conflict resolvers get angry all the time. Mainly because there’s a conflict, something isn’t right, which means there was a disconnect somewhere. However, the best conflict resolvers make their anger objective, and that object is the problem, not the person. Then they fix the problem in a way that treats the other person better than the other person treats them. In doing so, they become allies with the person to solve the problem instead of enemies trying to win. They’re both playing on the same team (the team that wants to resolve the problem).
That was painful to write. I like to win. I like to win a lot.
Continuing to directly quote the 9 Things book in a paraphrased manner, we can’t require maturity from the other person until we are being mature from our side first. It solves nothing when we return unprofessional behavior with immature or passive-aggressive behavior.
It should be our goal to do well by the other party, no matter how we are treated. Playing fair and having a victim mindset never solved any problems or got anyone anywhere. However, ownership of our own behavior, motives, opinions and being focused on doing the next best most right thing will always point to conflict resolution and situation improvement.
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