This week I had an unfortunate conflict with a client. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of conflict; however, learning to work through conflict in a healthy way is a necessary life skill.
Allow me to first share some brief background, which will aid in reaching the main point of today’s further-reaching post…
I work with a highly respected counseling group. While not a licensed professional counselor, my role is to connect an excellent, counseling team with organizations which desire to offer increased professional care for the mental health of persons in their purview. It is a sweet, privileged process to be able to help persons get the care they need.
Last week I had a man call who was very angry. Through a series of steps and conversations with others, he had come to believe something about a friend’s care that was untrue. Let me be respectfully clear: the man passionately believed that his perspective was completely accurate. As the one who administers the program, I can tell you his perspective was incorrect. But by this time, the conflict had brewed for a bit, and the man was mad. He was loud. He believed absolutely everything he was saying.
I’ve had some time since to reflect upon the conflict, and because I desire to grow in what is good, I’ve also asked myself: where else does this apply?
I look at our country and culture, seeing them attempt to work through conflict. With all due respect, our country stinks at it.
I look at the current shutdown. We stink at solving that, too.
I hear you. “If Trump would only quit demanding he get his way, demanding he get the money to build his campaign-promised wall…” Or… “If Pelosi and Schumer would only recognize how hypocritical they are, as when Obama was in office, they wholeheartedly supported such a barrier…”
Yes, please don’t attempt to tell me how one side is more moral or consistent. They are arguing about 0.0998% of the total federal budget; both sides seem most about political posturing. My personal hope is that the President’s stab at compromise over the weekend is sincere and will be fruitful — leading to a solution to the shutdown and to more bipartisan talks as to how we can efficiently, effectively and compassionately overhaul the current broken immigration system going forward.
But the problem with conflict is we get stuck in this unhealthy pattern, thinking that there exist only two ways to solve a problem… You/me. Black/white. Republican/Democrat. Yada/Yada. Then we only fight for and listen to a singular side.
Friends, there are far more ways than two to solve almost every problem.
When the loud, angry man called me last week, I can’t say I was thrilled. In fact, I immediately said an extra prayer for patience in hopes that I could listen well.
I listened to the man who shared his story. I asked questions about what I didn’t understand. I didn’t point out any perceived wrongful thinking. The purpose of my question asking was to understand why he felt the way he did.
Fascinating what happened next…
The angry man felt heard by my listening. He softened. Giving him space, grace, and time to communicate as he desired, he then was willing to hear my perspective, too. I shared with him some things he didn’t know. And by me listening to him first, he was willing to wrestle with what he previously misunderstood. He even offered that maybe he was part of the miscommunication. So after our initial, mutual respectful round of listening, I asked, “Sir, can I share with you my end game? My priority is the person gets the care they need. With that in mind, let’s work back from there.”
If our branches of government would first listen to one another — then recognize that they want the same thing — effective border security, which minimizes crime but allows responsible others to enter — and if they would work back from there — perhaps they would realize there exist more than solely two approaches.
Perhaps they would also realize our government would serve us better, too.
Did I mention that learning to work through conflict in a healthy way is a necessary life skill?