Sweetening sour relationships may need more than just a spoon full of sugar. The following excerpt from the book, Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both (by Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School. friendandfoebook.com) talks about the importance of using a mediator to facilitate face-to-face meetings with people we consider foes. “We often think that meeting face-to-face is the best way to build a relationship. This is certainly true for fledgling relationships and for existing relationships that need to be nurtured. When we face foes, however, face-to-face meetings can actually escalate conflict. Sometimes we need to take a break from seeing each other and have someone help mediate: A mediator can help two foes bridge their differences and repair their relationship.” The authors go on to say that based on the analysis of hundreds of labor disputes, when a mediator came in and held private meetings with each disputant before a joint mediation session, conflict was reduced, and better agreements were created.
Contrary to popular belief, conflict is not the enemy. The truth is, conflict is often the best way to create intimacy and trust between people. Conflict has the ability to generate creativity and fresh energy, strengthen leadership and loyalty, renew morale and motivation, increase productivity and financial stability. Few things accomplish these in life. Conflict also instills a healthy checks-and-balances that promote accountability within families and businesses. In fact, studies show that the most destructive approach to conflict is no approach at all; in other words, avoidance. Yes, conflict can be uncomfortable and sometimes excruciatingly painful but if effectively managed, it is a valuable asset in our private and professional lives. The answer to failing relationships isn’t simply avoiding conflict but rather facing it head on and choosing to manage it. I believe this is a key to healthy and sustainable relationships.
Last week’s divorce mediation reinforced for me the importance of asking questions in place of assuming the worst about a person’s actions...or even the best without confirmation.
A year earlier, the husband had requested a divorce and for a year the wife had been dragging her feet on filing. He concluded that she was sabotaging the divorce process out of spite while she truly believed her husband was showing signs of ambivalence toward divorcing (even though they had been separated for 18 months and he was currently living with another woman). When asked how his wife might have read ambivalence in him regarding the divorce, the husband responded categorically that he had no doubt they should divorce. He said she was probably picking up on his deep sadness that divorce meant violating his Christian values.
If only the wife had asked him to clarify her hopeful impressions instead of assuming the best or the husband had sought to understand his wife’s reluctance to file instead of assuming the worst. They may have saved months of painful confusion and growing hostility.
The perils of assumption!
For many separating or divorcing couples with minor children, the last thing on their minds is a new romantic relationship. It’s all they can do to get out of their current soured one as fast as possible. However, more than ever, I’m realizing the importance of couples thinking through and establishing some guidelines for future dating relationships and including them in court decreed parenting plans.
I recently did a mediation for a young couple with a 5-yr. old daughter. A year after their separation, the mother started including her new boyfriend and his adolescent son into her scheduled parenting time with her daughter. When the daughter's father got wind of this, he was very angry and concerned that mom hadn't consulted with or even informed him before she exposed their daughter to this man and his son. He was sick with worry about his daughter’s safety and how this new relationship could confuse and negatively impact her.
Understanding and agreeing to dating guidelines can help preempt conflict and foster more productive communication between parents. It’s important that parents consider such questions as: How long should a parent wait before introducing a new romantic interest to their children? What wording should be used when making introductions? How much time with this person and what activities with the child are appropriate? What might be the impact if the relationship ends?
These issues are difficult and complex, but one thing I know; they are much messier when a parenting plan does not attempt to address them from the get go. Taking the time to think through dating guidelines before dating can spare parents unnecessary conflict and stress. More importantly, it's an extra measure of protection for the children.
Is conflict the missing ingredient in your work meetings? According to Patrick Lencioni, author of, Death by Meeting, the answer is a resounding Yes! Lencioni writes, “Meetings are not inherently boring. By definition, they are dynamic interactions involving groups of people discussing topics that are relevant to their livelihoods. So why are they so often dull? Because we eliminate the one element that is required to make any human activity interesting: conflict”
So it appears that conflict in meetings is not only a good thing but a necessity if the boss wants to keep employees engaged and meetings “interactive and relevant”. This may seem counter-intuitive since a large and growing body of research supports the fact that conflict in the workplace costs businesses exorbitant amounts of money every year. Conflict in and of its self is not the problem but rather, it is management’s inaction or inability to properly deal with conflict. Just the other day I received a phone call from a bank manager who said, “All I do is deal with conflict so I figured I should learn how to do it”
It’s estimated that 30% of a manager’s time is spent dealing with conflict and yet a mere 57% of managers have actually received conflict management training. Lencioni says that if conflict were productively “mined” and “nurtured” during meetings, workers might actually enjoy going to a meeting more than going to the movies!
Empowering people and businesses to transform conflict into opportunities for profound growth!