RESOLVING RECURRING CONFLICTS
One day Beetle Bailey and Sarge have a conflict:
But a few days later, the two have another conflict.
Again and again other conflicts spring up between these same two individuals. These recurring conflicts come about with a distinctly higher frequency than usual for two people in the types of situations in which they live and interact.
When we see two people having an unusual amount of recurring conflicts, at some point we might want to dig a little below the surface to figure out why.
Using the DIG Conflict Model to Help with Challenging Conflicts
From time to time on this blog, we have been using the word DIG to remind us of a simple way to briefly summarize any conflict. The letters in the word “DIG” reminds us to look for a desire, what is interfering with achieving the desire, and if someone feels that the person who is viewed as interfering with the desire is guilty of doing something wrong. We also noted earlier that the word “DIG” is a useful memory device because sometimes we have to dig below the surface to understand a conflict (see DIG FOR THE CONFLICT and DEALING WITH CRITICISM BY DIGGING DEEPER).
In an earlier post, I discussed two digging tools that help us to find ways of improving our style of providing criticism and resolving conflicts (see WHY IS CRITICISM SO HARD TO BEAR?). There, I mentioned that it is helpful to stay mindful that when people are criticized, their desire to be liked and to maintain their freedom may become threatened. By keeping this in mind, we can often come up with less threatening alternative styles to engage people during our disagreements. During recurring conflicts, these tools for digging can be very helpful.
Today, we are going to look at three other digging tools because they are especially helpful when we notice that we are dealing with recurring conflicts.
Three Digging Tools Especially Helpful for Resolving Recurring Conflicts
The three digging tools we will focus on today are in the form of questions:
1. What desire might be motivating the conflict?
2. What other desires might be motivating the conflict?
3. Why do the people involved in the problem have this desire in this situation?
To familiarize yourself with this aspect of conflicts, please consider the following Beetle Bailey comic:
From this comic, we might get the impression that Sarge views this situation as a conflict he is having with Beetle, a conflict that we might describe from his perspective as follows: Sarge desires Beetle to wait in a certain spot and interfering with his desire, Beetle wants to wait in a different spot. Sarge believes that if Beetle doesn’t follow his order, he will be guilty of insubordination.
Suppose we ask Sarge if, from his perspective, these two sentences capture a conflict he is having with Beetle, and he replies, “Yes! That lazy bum is trying to goof off again!”
At this point, something strikes me over the head, urging me to dig a little deeper than the two-sentence conflict description Sarge has said captures his conflict with Beetle. It seems to me that Sarge and Beetle seem to be having far more conflicts with one another than is usual between a sargent and a private under his command.
Hmmm. To begin digging into this conflict, I put my tools out there where I can easily get at them. In bold letters I write out the following three questions.
1. What desire might be motivating the conflict? 2. What other desires might be motivating the conflict? 3. Why does the party have this desire in this situation?
As I begin to think about this a little more, I wonder if the desire that I identified in my first attempt to describe the conflict is the best that I can come up with. Is this really about Sarge’s desire to have Beetle wait in the exact spot that he has pointed to?
In this situation I don’t see how Sarge thinks Beetle is likely to behave in a manner that is interfering with what Sarge says he desires. Beetle just asks if he can wait sitting in the shade. Sarge knows Beetle well enough by now so that he must realize that once he orders Beetle to wait where he tells him to wait, he isn’t likely to be insubordinate. Moreover, it wasn’t any problem for Sarge to figure out how to get Beetle to wait where he wanted him to wait. All he had to do was bark orders at Beetle, something he’s done numerous times. Perhaps Sarge has some other desire that is part of the reason he is getting so worked up here.
My memory scans over the other recent conflicts I’ve seen happen between Sarge and Beetle. I recall, over and over again, situations that had Sarge perceiving Beetle as lazy.
Let’s pretend, for instructional purposes, that I can explore with Sarge whether or not we can reword the original conflict description as a recurring conflict.
“Sarge, I’m gonna describe your conflict a little differently than before because I don’t think the original description is as good as we can make it. If you don’t mind, let me know if it is more or less accurate. Earlier I described it from your perspective as follows: You desire that Beetle wait in a certain spot and Beetle interfered with your desire when he indicated that he wants to wait in a different spot. You believe that if Beetle doesn’t follow your order, he will be guilty of insubordination. You agreed that it is pretty accurate. But what if I describe it instead like this: You have a desire to have privates under your command that are energetic go-getters, and after Beetle was assigned to your outfit you have found his laziness has been interfering with this desire. You believe Beetle is, and will continue to be, guilty of laziness.”
“Yes, that is a much better description of my conflict with Beetle than your original description.”
“I thought it might be. Beetle has been in your outfit for years. Specific conflicts arose. To deal with his laziness I’ve noticed that you have yelled at him, given him KP duty that required that he peel potatoes up to his ears, and used all manner of threats and physical attacks.
Beetle at least listens to your orders, though sometimes taking them a bit too literally. But, nevertheless, he is never blatantly insubordinate. Although Beetle continues to be lazy, you found that with a little assertive hollering (“I SAID WAIT HERE, AND I MEAN RIGHT HERE!”) he usually complies even if he has to stand in place while a steam shovel comes roaring by.”
“Yeah, but he keeps acting lazy. It’s driving me BERSERK!”
“I can tell it’s starting to really get to you.”
“You’re telling me!!!”
“This last conflict you had with Beetle was resolved with so little difficulty that it really didn’t qualify as a conflict or even a problem. And yet, Sarge, you remained angry. And this kind of troubling interaction with Beetle has been happening in one situation after another. Something else has to be going on.”
“You’re right about that!”
Once Sarge clearly understands the nature of his recurring conflict, he is in a better position to seek out a resolution. Before he understood this, when he would complain to his fellow sergeants about Beetle not doing this or that, they would ask, “Well, did you get him to do it?” When Sarge would answer yes, they would shrug, and say, “At least he’s not insubordinate.” But now Sarge tells his fellow sergeants, “See if you can help me with this problem. I want privates under my command to be energetic, hustling team members, and after Beetle was assigned to my outfit I’ve found his laziness has been interfering with this desire. Beetle continues to be guilty of laziness. Any of you have any ideas to fix this?”
“Well, I had a recruit once by the name of Bob,” says one of the sergeants, “and he was the laziest bum I ever saw in my life. Well, what I did was, I told this here Bob, the next time you do anything that strikes me as lazy, I’m gonna put you on KP duty until you go a whole two weeks without my catching you acting lazy. Then I’m gonna let you off KP duty until I catch ya being lazy again. We’re gonna keep doing this until you stop being lazy. Anyway, it worked like a charm.”
Now I’m not saying this plan is ideal or that it will work every time. I simply lay it out there as a part of a parable designed to give you an example of a recurring conflict and to suggest that by digging a little to better define a conflict, we are oftentimes better positioned to seek more specific, helpful advice.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.