Bring curiosity into conflict

By the look on Grace's face, she's quite unsure of continuing up the A-Frame agility walk. But to her credit, she persevered through her discomfort and once past the largest hurdle, she started to enjoy herself. Moving through things that are uncomfortable can lead to unexpected benefits. I think she would vouch for that!
By the look on Grace’s face, she’s not too pleased about climbing up the A-Frame agility walk. But to her credit, she persevered through her discomfort and once past the largest hurdle, she started to enjoy herself.  I imagine Grace was dealing with internal conflict, trying to balance her desire to follow my request versus her preference to make a U-turn and go back the easy way. I admire her courage for sticking with it and I think she’s glad she did, too, because this became one of her favorite activities in our agility classes. Conflict comes in many shapes and forms, and as Grace shows us, you can move through the hurdles if you want to.

I wanted to quit. Really, I did.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been participating with a volunteer group trying to work through a sticky issue. It’s an effort that I joined readily and am actively engaged in. Every person involved is smart and dedicated, we all are driving towards the same goal. A variety of opinions and creative ideas have surfaced in the many conversations we’ve exchanged; dialogue has been completely respectful and often supportive.

Yet, at one point last week, I felt that the tide had turned, where many people were headed in a direction that was contrary to how I would move forward if the decision was solely mine. And in the short period of one day, I almost quit. I was ready to walk away, not from the overall project, but from the group who was working so hard to fix the problem. I had emailed another person to say I was thinking of not coming to the meeting planned for the following night. I told her I was worried about the direction and needed to think things through a bit more.

Something stopped me short of that decision to back out. I’m not sure exactly why I changed my mind. Maybe it was the knowledge that the group desperately wanted the same things I did. Or maybe I realized that if I walked away, I eliminated any chance of furthering our collective efforts. So instead of giving up, I found a better solution. I brought my curiosity about the conflict to the meeting! I needed to hear what everyone had to say, to get a better understanding of their concerns and motives. Of course, I was eager to share my perspective, too, but I understood going into that meeting that full consensus would not be found.

I’m glad I went. I didn’t change anyone’s mind that night, and I left feeling perfectly fine with that. The time we spent in respectful discussion offered the valuable opportunity for us to understand each other more. And that’s the important thing. When steeped in conflict, we shouldn’t set a goal of forcing another to change his or her opinion; it’s a more productive objective to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s opinion. It’s worth your time to stay engaged in the process; when done with genuine interest for the other person, you can avoid the anger and permanent grudges that ruin relationships.

We’re still moving through the process and my guess is that we will be for a quite some time. I’m learning that’s the best way to move through conflict. One step at a time. Listening and talking (emphasis on listening). More listening and talking. And then more listening and talking. When we shut down, like I was about to do, there is no way to find common ground.

Conflict is much like the activities of dog agility. You have to move as gracefully as you can through the hurdles, not giving up along the way. 

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4 comments

  1. Donna Brand says:

    Thank you for this topic. When I find myself in a similar situation, this is key: “….when done with genuine interest for the other person.” I try to let go of the topic a bit, and instead, just be with the person or people themselves…

    • Robin says:

      Nice approach, Donna! I can see how that would be very effective. It allows you to focus on what’s most important. Thank you for sharing your experience, which helps us all.

  2. Judy Ringer says:

    Thanks, Robin. For your post and for not giving up. I love: “When steeped in conflict, we shouldn’t set a goal of forcing another to change his or her opinion; it’s a more productive objective to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s opinion. “

    • Robin says:

      Ahhh, and that’s a hard one, too, isn’t it, Judy? Especially when we feel so strongly about our own view. I can easily fall into that trap of wanting to pursue my own agenda instead of discovering what is on the mind of others. Thank you for chiming in. Always love to see you here!

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