When you have a problem with your pipes, you call a plumber. When you have a problem with your colleagues, neighbor, spouse, etc., who do you call?
In the modern world, we have specialists to help us solve any number of overwhelming problems and help us meet our needs. From plumbers, painters, and gardeners, craftsmen who have all the tools and knowledge to build, repair, and beautify our homes to doctors, therapists, and clergy, who help us navigate the challenges of our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits, we have specialists for everything! Even the morning conflict with our hair meets a trained specialist and a new batch of “product” every six weeks or so to set things straight. We go out to eat and let chefs (or high school kids) solve our food problem and even defer to bartender”mixologists” behind the bar to solve our cocktail problems. So when you have human conflict, a problem with one of the many relationships that makes the rest of your life function, who do you call?
Perhaps since conflict is embedded in what it means to be human, we think that managing it is something we ought to be able to do independently. Like the people in the graphic above, we expect to put the pieces together on our own, assuming that we can see the puzzle clearly and that everyone will work together to make things right. As resilient and capable people, we develop a variety of strategies to do this. We call on friends and family to vent and (maybe) brainstorm options together. We develop coping skills and toughen our skin to be able to tolerate an intolerable situation. In some cases, we may assertively advocate for our needs and expect the other side of the conflict to acquiesce. Realistically, however, most of our conflicts are more complicated than the cooperative figures in the puzzle above. In the real world, the picture isn’t always so clear and the pieces tend to move around. Communication with the other party is often strained and misunderstandings further complicate our effectiveness. In spite of this complexity, even when we’re hyper-aware of conflict’s presence and the impact it’s having on us…we call no one. We get no guidance. We use no specialized support.
Sadly, in spite of our best (independent) efforts conflict takes a significant toll on our lives. Poorly managed conflict handicaps teams’ productivity, breeds mistrust, and adds strain to situations that are likely already laden with pressure. While conflict can be a font of new learning and innovation, when improperly managed it does far more harm than good. Why then, do so few people ask for specialized support? Why, when our health, our relationships, and our jobs may be on the line, do we go it alone? Why do we have a specialized routine to outsource our coffee “problem” (there’s an app for that!) and still pay such little attention to getting a skilled person helping to solve our real life problems?
As a mediator I am passionate about helping individuals and teams resolve conflicts. Beyond this, I truly hope to build their skills so they can become increasingly capable of solving their own problems in the future, without my help! I love a determined and independent spirit that wants to take care of things internally. I really do! That said, conflict is complex and let’s face it, most of us do a really terrible job resolving some things on our own. If our culture dictates that we DON’T call a specialist to help us when we have conflict, shouldn’t we at least spend a little time learning how do solve things on our own? How could mediation or facilitation services and conflict resolution training get you back on track? What would it be worth to you to have a hand, or at least a training, to transform conflict in your own life?