Bridging the Gap
Posted by H. Schumaker on Jul 20, 2018

Bridging the Gap

As the lazy hazy days of summer roll on, we are - believe it or not - starting to gear up for the school year. I am not kidding. I’ve got one finishing up an internship and itching to be back out learning and being 19, another that is laying the foundation for his senior year and prepping for college applications and football and a third that is preparing to jump cannonball style into his sophomore year, an hour and a half away from home, following in the footsteps of his siblings but making the journey all his own. And of course, there is football. Coaching starts on Monday for my Rob and thus begins two dinners a night for all my boys and A LOT of free time on my hands. I love the fall but I would be lying if I said that there’s a part of me that isn’t dreading that much alone time.

With so much going on, five people on five schedules, everyone with their own agenda, communication is not exactly at its finest. Needing a car, needing a ride, needing a lunch, $20, a hug, an ear, some advice, some insight, some accountability - some of those ‘minor’ details are not brought up until the last minute which adds to the stress of the moment. And that my friends, brings about conflict. A whole lot of conflict. And if I have learned one thing this summer, if there has been one major theme that has been a mainstay in the past three months - it has been how to resolve conflict, how to bridge the gap from one side to the other and find some resolution to the challenge at hand.

And this challenge of conflict doesn’t just impact us at home. It exists in the work place, it exists in government, it lives and breathes in many areas of our home life and our professional life. You can’t avoid it or escape it, none of us are immune. Given that I am self-employed and my own single employee, I don’t have any issues in the work place. Home - that’s a different story (see paragraph above). So because sharing is caring, maybe reading my thoughts on conflict and how to find that middle ground, maybe it will save someone else some of the dark and dreary moments I’ve faced in the past two and a half months. Because what I’ve discovered is that no matter where the conflict is taking place - home, work, personal relationships - you pretty much walk the same path when trying to resolve said conflict. So settle back, pop a top and read on.

Conflict by definition

I hit up my gal Merriam to see what she had to say about conflict and by definition, conflict is “a competitive or opposing action of incompatibles and/or a mental struggle resulting from incompatible of opposing needs.” In my house, I call this the month of May 2018. Merriam also states that conflict is “the opposition of persons that gives rise to the dramatic action in a drama.” I call this definition the month of June 2018. Bottom line is conflict is when you have two sides that want or need to interact but there is an obstacle, an obstruction, a road block in the way. Where there are people, there is conflict.

But don’t despair! It’s not ALL bad. There are two different types of conflict - positive conflict and negative conflict. And when you understand the difference between the two, do some internal accountability, it should go a long way to conflict resolution. This was new to me and a little bit shaming and a wake up call to the ways in which I need to change.

Negative Conflict

I always want the bad news first so let’s get this out of the way now. When you think conflict, most of us immediately think negative. With negative conflict, the issues are not addressed in a manner that is productive. Flailing arms, stomping feet, yelling, screaming your point to the other person, throw in some whining. Yeah. I’ve done lots of that this summer. When the differences of the two parties are not addressed, the conflict focuses less on facts but more on assumption. Feelings get hurt, no one is heard, both parties have no interest in finding a solution. Ugh…yep. Been there, done that.

Positive Conflict

Now for the good news - not all conflict is bad. There are four outcomes to conflict: lose-lose, win-lose, lose-win and win-win. With lose-lose, the issue remains unresolved, everyone is mad and you end up with negative conflict. With win-lose or lose-win, one person takes all the marbles and goes home victorious while the other person goes home with nothing but resentment. Let’s just say I have very few marbles to my name. However, when both parties address the issue at hand in a manner that is not only respectful to hearing the opinion of the other party and where the dispute in managed in a way that both parties are working towards a common goal, nine times out of ten the final outcome is win-win. But that takes patience, understanding and respect towards the desired end result of the other person and a willingness to give a little to find that common ground.

Steps to resolving conflict

We now know what conflict is and hopefully you’ve taken a minute and thought about how you could have done things different. I know I did. There are five basic steps that you can follow in resolving conflict that will hopefully result in more win-win situations. And save you some heartache along the way. And we aren’t talking anything difficult here, peepers. Just some basic common sense.

Step 1 - Find a neutral location to hash it out

There has to be some sort of safe place or common area to talk. Not necessarily their space, not your space but somewhere that is as neutral as possible. The areas of the home or the office that we consider ‘ours’ may make others feel intimidated. And that’s not a great way to start a conversation - with one party feeling safe and the other party feeling intimidated. A conference room, outside, the kitchen table - find a neutral location before conversation starts.

Step 2 - Articulate your position

Everyone gets the opportunity to voice their position, articulate their perception of the conflict. You’d be amazed at how difficult of a task that is to get down to the root of the problem because often times we lose that in the midst of all the other garbage surrounding it. Clear out the clutter, don’t focus on issues that are unrelated and get to the heart of what the conflict is. Keep emotion out of it as best you can because leading with your emotion simply leads to slamming doors and raised voices and that doesn’t work. Trust me. I know this all to well.

Step 3 - Be as prepared to listen as you were to talk.

Yeah, I’m really NOT a good listener. And that’s a part of the problem. In order to get to a positive outcome, you need to be an empathetic listener. You need to make an attempt to HEAR what the other person is saying and empathize with their side. Understand where they are coming from and why they feel that way. You have to be willing to let go of your hold on why you’re so certain you are RIGHT and open up your ears to hearing and empathizing with why they feel the same way - certain that they are RIGHT.

Step 4 - Bring options to the table

To get to that ultimate win-win resolution, you need to come with some options. Some sort of idea of give and take. Remember, you’re trying to avoid win-win’s ugly stepsisters named lose-lose, win-lose, lose-win. Be willing to negotiate, compromise, be creative and make sure beforehand that the criteria for evaluating terms is understood by all. Let everyone present their solution and then begin to discuss from there.

Step 5 - Choose a resolution that works for all involved

In almost every case, there is a resolution that will work for all parties. Not 100% your way, not 100% their way but a mutual positive resolution to the conflict that everyone can live with. Again, it takes give and take on both sides, some willingness to let go of everything that you want and some finagling. But it can be done. And when both sides walk away being heard, trust me when I tell you that it makes future conflicts not quite so painful to endure.

No Resolution Solution

As I said, in most cases, there is resolution for the conflict. But not always. Whether it’s leaving a job, leaving a friendship or realizing that there are some life lessons that your loved ones have to learn the hard way, sometimes the best solution is that there is no solution. I personally think that this is what happens when there has been a consistent and constant build-up, a history of visits by the ugly stepsisters lose-lose, win-lose or lose-win and the situation is too far gone. Less than ideal and hence my push to do a better job at resolving conflict in a healthy manner.

Conflict Chez Hallie

Lots of conflict this summer. Actually, in many ways, it’s been a year of learning about conflict and how to resolve and how not to resolve. I am not particularly proud of the choices that I’ve made, the values I’ve compromised in order to restore some sort of peace. I’ve raged and stormed, I’ve thrown tantrums. I’ve had my first and hopefully only panic attack. I’ve lost a lot - my temper, a friend here or there, some respect for sure from my trolls.

But I’ll tell you what - I have learned. There has been value in the loss. The friendships that ended were meant to end because I was in a lose-win situation. And sometimes the best solution is no resolution and I walked away. And that, I’ve learned, that is okay. My circle may be smaller but I’m solid in that circle, in those friendships. Fingers crossed.

Having adult children is not easy and trust me when I tell you I thought it would be. I have compromised my integrity, my parenting, my worth in order to not lose a child and I regret having done so. I wish I would’ve sat down at the kitchen table and done it differently. But not only did I learn, but finally the light-bulb went off and I think that WE learned. And now, for the first time in a long time, we are listening to one another. Fingers crossed.

And the other soon to be adult child - I am holding on so tight that it is hard to be logical. Given that troll child is so much the best of my Rob and I and so much the really not so best parts of us both, it is a challenge. I need to articulate better. I need to not let my heart get in the way, allow my emotions to take over and show compromise but with a fair yet firm hand. And I am going to do better, let loose the reins as best I can. Fingers crossed.

And this world we live in seems to be in a constant state of conflict. What role are you playing in that? Are you actively working to be a part of the resolution? Help find a viable solution? Being the example of neutrality, listening, actively participating in finding an outcome that works for all parties? I have not been as much as I could be. And I’m committed to changing that.

Conflict is a part of life. You won’t escape it, you can’t hide from it - it finds each of us. But at the end of the day there is so much to be gained by positive conflict than there is by negative. It’s not a perfect process and it won’t work for every situation but I promise you that if you try the steps, if you take a step back and start listening more (myself included), learn to articulate and remove the emotion, be prepared with options that can work for you and for them, conflict resolution is there. At home. At work. In life. Life is short, peepers. I’d rather spend my days with a smile on my face than anger in my heart. Resolve yourself to find resolution.