Receiving Others as Gifts: Finding Common Ground

20140522-215314.jpg

Conflict is inevitable if you spend any amount of time around other people. But conflict does not have to come between people or lead to the negation of others as gifts. When we address conflict in a healthy way and seek to find common ground, we validate the other and can move toward solutions that benefit everyone.

I’m aware that so far in this series on Receiving Others as Gifts  I’ve painted a pretty rosy view of everyone serving one another, having companionship, and working harmoniously. We’re all gifts to each other and we feel this especially strongly when we all get along. But what about when conflict surfaces?

 

Two Pitfalls

When it comes to dealing with conflict there are two major pitfalls to avoid:

 

Denial

Ewwww…Conflict….Can’t we just pretend everything is okay? Well, you could, but it’s not the best way. Denying that conflict exists, while a popular choice, is actually a terrible way to honor others as gifts. In fact, pretending conflict is not real is a negation of the other.

 

Manipulation

Another popular, yet misguided approach to conflict is manipulation or using the conflicted situation as a means to get others to do things against their will. Again, this does not honor others, it actively negates them to get what we want.

 

A Better Way

When conflict arises it is best to address it directly and respectfully with an eye toward mutually-agreed-upon solutions. This takes work and it takes practice but it is the best way to honor others and the gifts that they are. Let me break these down a little more:

 

Being Direct

Being direct means, first of all, identifying the problem and then naming it specifically and in objective (non-judgmental, factual) terms to the other party.

“Your article is two days late,” is direct, specific and objective.

“We’re having trouble getting the publication finished,” while stating the fact that the publication is delayed is too vague about the specific problem of the other party missing the deadline.

“You obviously don’t care about our publication because you totally blew off your deadline,” is specific about the missed deadline, but it fails the objectivity test because it is accusatory and assigns motives based on subjective perception.

 

Showing Respect

Addressing conflict respectfully means that we go into the discussion assuming the best about the other and that person’s role in the situation. For all we know the deadline was unclear, or perhaps there was a death in that person’s family. Maybe that person has all-around too much to do. It is disrespectful to behave as if we know the other person’s intent before talking it out.

Dealing with conflict respectfully also means keeping our own emotions in check. It’s understandable that the conflict may have stirred up ill-feelings for us. But showing respect means that we don’t use our feelings as an excuse to mistreat or lash out at the other person.

 

Finding Solutions

Naming the problem directly & addressing it respectfully are just the beginning. Once the problem itself is clearly understood there is no need to belabor how bad the problem is or shame those we believe to be at fault. At that point the important task is to find solutions.

Finding solutions is best achieved when we start by finding common ground. While the conflict itself may seem larger-than-life, there are likely to be values on which the parties still agree. Working from values held in common can help keep the conflict from devolving into an “us vs. them” standoff.

Can the parties agree that the publication is important? Do they agree that staying on schedule is a priority? Perhaps there is agreement on these larger issues, but the precise timing of the deadline is an area for clarification or even renegotiation. The solution may be as simple ace a recommitment to the deadlines as they are, but it may be that the deadline could budge a day or two and not compromise the timeliness of the publication.

 

Practice Makes Perfect

The example of the missed deadline is admittedly a rather small area of conflict and I know that oftentimes the areas of conflict we face are considerably more serious. But even these small areas of conflict have a way of festering &/or getting blown out of proportion when they’re not dealt with effectively.

Dutifully practicing conflict-resolution skills in the small matters helps us build those skills for when the bigger conflicts arise. As we practice the skills necessary in finding common ground and working toward solutions we become more and more able to honor and receive one another as gifts.

 

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series: