Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

Dealing With Conflict

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One of the things I most appreciate about dorm living is the opportunity it provides for growth as a natural result of people living so closely together. That’s not a backhanded way to say “it sucks” I really do appreciate the opportunities it provides.

This year there was some hubub over a whiteboard in which people were invited to ask what they were thankful for and someone wrote “condoms” so the powers that be erased it, and it was replaced, erased again, replaced in larger text, and the whole matter escalated to ridiculous proportions.

download (1)I was a part of a meeting that was called with all the dorm residents, to “share our feelings” about “the whiteboard incident” and I was appalled to find that in a room full of pastoral leaders, the capacity for constructive engagement on controversial issues was almost totally absent.

I kid you not: There was a talking stick used. Something I had not seen since the fourth or fifth grade. Nobody was permitted to speak to anyone else, or to respond to anything else which was said. We were all instructed to pass the stick and speak in turn in response to 4 or five very leading questions that were preselected.

It was insulting, it was humiliating, and I rocked it.

Each time stick of copious condescension came my way I was able to articulate a position with wit and verve, and punctuate it with a flourish that would warrant a mic drop. I made my case such that those who had agreed wanted to clap and those who disagreed wanted to apologize.

And it got me to thinking. “I am quite good at this conflict stuff”

I had never looked it in that way before. As a strength. But it turns out that as a result of my tense upbringing and general personality traits, I am able to thrive in situations that make many other people shrivel up. What’s more, I find that that is different in Key ways from being “Argumentative”

Someone with a faculty for conflict is able to address disagreements and communicate clearly under pressure in such a way that the pressure is abated and it allows the other person to hear, understand, and communicate clearly as well. Someone who is argumentative is interested in conflict for it’s own sake regardless of what is communicated.

Obviously the ideas are related and the two can coexist. I’m probably both. But even there the distinction is valuable. What if we as a people were able to know and understand the difference between these things when we see conflict in our midst?

So often when I am accused of being argumentative, my voice is silenced, the opinion that I value is disregarded without really being heard, and I am pushed into a corner where my choice is to fight or surrender. So a once important conflict becomes a tense fight about fighting.

Accusing someone of argumentativeness is argumentative behavior. It escalates the conflict and silences the truth.

What if instead I was told that my controversial point was being lost on my audience, and challenged to address the conflict more directly. Even to do so better. That I had a gift for conflict but I needed to take a breath and try again because it came off more antagonistic than articulate. That would have the opposite response in me, and tend to reduce the tension rather than build it through shame.

But of course nobody is going to do that to me, I have to do that for others and get the change started for future generations.


Written by RyanGaffney

June 24, 2015 at 9:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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