Published On: Fri, Jun 1st, 2018

Conflict resolution begins at home

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Around fifteen years ago I attended a personal growth program designed by a Vietnam vet in the United States. I had to think about that experience when I attended the mediation congress at the Belair Community Center on Friday morning, because I learned a lot from that old soldier.

One of the first things participants in the personal growth program encountered was a question, plastered in big letters on the wall of our meeting room.

The text was: What is it you pretend not to know?

I quickly learned what that was all about. It is one of the keys to conflict resolution.

Suppose your wife asks: why the hell did you do that? And you have the nerve to say: I don’t know.

I know my wife’s answer to that one: whom else should I ask?

Why is this key? Because it has to do with honesty. You know of course damn well why you did or did not do something. By pretending not to know something, you are hiding a – most likely – inconvenient truth. That’s not a good way to solve a dispute.

Another key concept of that personal growth program was this: It is never about the other person.

We all know that it takes two to tango. A Dutch expression looks at the other side of that medal: Waar twee kijven hebben twee schuld. (Where two fight, two are guilty).

And those fights usually get out of control because the fighting parties are unaware – or do not want to accept –  that it is never about the other person.

Conflict resolution requires the ability and the willingness to look at your own role in the conflict. That does not only apply to conflicts on a personal level, but also to disputes in the public domain.

It is easy to imagine for instance that people get irritated and frustrated when they have to wait a very long time before they get served – be it in a restaurant or in a government office.

But the reaction you are gonna get from these people depends for a large part on your own attitude.

If you snap at someone who has been desperately waiting for social assistance, you’re off to a bad start. But if you show empathy, if you explain why something is taking longer than expected (or that you are simply having a bad hair day), you’re already halfway there.

If the other person is dependent on you – because you control access to a certain service – you are in a powerful position. If you abuse that position with a disdainful attitude towards a client, you’re in for a lot of trouble.

Conflict resolution, like charity, therefore begins at home. It is never about the other person. Keeping that in mind will make everybody’s day a lot more pleasant.