Conflict Conversationland: Plan Ahead

Conflict Conversationland: Plan Ahead

Caleb tells us that some time ago a friend wronged him. Caleb says he was unable to confront the friend at the time but is now thinking of doing so. He asks his current friends for operating instructions.

Group A says hurry up- contact the friend and speak your mind before any more time goes by.

Group B says let it go- bringing up something unpleasant will just cause hard feelings.

I say “What do you want?” There are several possibilities:

– To Punish. From the you-can’t-treat-me-like-this-and-expect-me-to- take-it school.

– Vent. I just want you to know that I was hurt by your actions.

– Repair. I’d like to revisit the unfortunate event to see if we can move past it and resume our friendship.

There are probably other possibilities, but these might be the Big Three. And each one of them would yield a different script for the encounter. The danger of jumping in without determining which script you’ve chosen to follow is that without a purpose and a script that supports it, we often flail about, jumping from one thought to another, driven by the reactions of the listener, becoming accusatory or defensive, angry or plaintive, unable to turn aside the provocative triggers that leap at us in response to a thought we have mid-stream or a remark from the other person; we aren’t able to stay on any path that might lead us through the unpredictable, emotion-laden mine-field of conflict conversations. With a plan, maybe we can.

Many of us don’t ever enter conflict-conversation-land because it is perilous territory, within which we can find ourselves sounding uncharacteristically petty, peevish, or puerile, and we can emerge feeling pummeled. Avoidance seems a safe, sensible choice.

In fact, avoidance is a better choice than initiating a sensitive situation without preparation. Caleb is wise to ask for help as he considers how to confront his friend, but for every Caleb there are many Hotspurs, who think that deciding to have the conversation is all the preparation required. The only question they ask is “Shall I tell him how I feel? Yes!” And off they go…..

…..and another conflict is born!

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