For many of us, as soon as we see someone saying something that strikes us as insulting, we get defensive, and perhaps we might shout out something like, “How dare you speak that way to me!” or “You’re a stupid idiot!”
When you become a master at dealing with insults, rather than becoming defensive, the first thing you do is to pause to consider the reason for the insult. One of the first theories that you consider is that perhaps the insulter has a conflict with you. If this seems like a real possibility, you let the insulter know you care that he or she is upset. Then you artfully summarize the conflict that has led to the disrespectful behavior even when you are being insulted.
You can learn to do this, but it takes some practice. In recent blog posts, I’ve been providing readers with some fun practice (see Conflicts: Lessons from Beetle Bailey and Conflicts with ourselves: Lessons from Charlie Brown).
As we have learned, there is an art to helpfully summarizing a conflict. One very important skill to this art is to frame the conflict as something that refers to the future. Let’s take a few moments to review this idea.
A Conflict, to Exist, Must Refer to Something that will Occur in the Future
Please consider the following comic.
Now, let’s pretend we know what happens after Dagwood arrives at his office. Immediately, his boss, Mr. Dithers throws an insult at him, yelling that he is a Bobblehead!
Dagwood responds by becoming defensive and starts screaming at his boss which leads to his getting fired.
His boss is now stuck trying to replace Dagwood, and Dagwood has to look for a new job. Upon reflection, both parties come to realize that this was not the best outcome to the conflict.
Consider, if you will, another scenario. Dagwood, upon arriving at work and hearing his boss’s insult, recognizes his boss is probably insulting him because he has a conflict with him about coming to work late. Dagwood looks concerned and summarizes the conflict by saying, “You’re angry with me because you desired that your employers come to work on time, and I interfered with your desire by coming to work late. You feel I’m guilty because I’m over an hour late.”
This wording is a pretty good step toward describing the conflict. However, it can be improved. Notice that it describes the desire and the act that interfered with Mr. Dithers’ desire as all happening in the past. A more helpful thing to do is to try to describe the conflict as something important to the future. It is helpful to spend at least some time, when describing a conflict, to focus on the future because the past can’t be changed, and conflicts, when wisely considered, are designed to lead us to improving our futures. Your job, when you are an expert in conflict resolution, will be to translate the common but immature way to express a conflict into a language that reveals the true nature of conflicts.
Let’s apply this lesson to Dithers’ conflict with Bumstead.
When Bumstead arrives at the office in our example, Dithers starts to yell at Bumstead, “You Bobblehead, you’re an hour late!” This sure seems like the conflict is about something that occurred in the past. But, if you will, consider this scenario:
Bumstead upon arriving at work and hearing his boss yell an insult at him, says “Boss, I’m sorry that I’m late. The elevator broke down. Now that I am late, is there something that you desire that I get done that you are afraid I won’t get done because I arrived late?”
Bumstead then summarizes the conflict in a concerned manner, “Boss, you want me to complete the Smith report that I promised would go out by the end of the day, and now that I arrived late, you are worried that all of my other duties I have to accomplish during the remaining workday will interfere with your desire. You feel I’m guilty of being an irresponsible employee. Is that correct?”
“Yes!” cries Mr. Dithers.
This restating of the original conflict points us in an easier direction for resolving the conflict. Arguing all day about coming to work late today will only waste time and can end up getting Bumstead fired. Thinking about how to get that report out as soon as possible can be far more productive.
Bumstead, now focused on what the major concern of his boss is, perhaps might reply, “Boss, I know how important it is to you to get that report out, so when the elevator got stuck, I wrote the report sitting on the elevator floor.” Or perhaps Bumstead might reply, “Since it is so important to you to get that report out, I’ll work over my lunch break and get it done.” Or Bumstead might reply, “I’ll work late today until the report is done, and then I’ll bring the report to the overnight mail service. They have a pick-up as late as 7:30 pm.”
Any of these replies, all designed to address Dithers’ concern about a problem relevant to the future (getting the Smith report done by the end of the day) will be more helpful in calming Dithers’ concern then either Bumstead getting defensive or both Bumstead and Dithers arguing about some things that have all occurred in the past.
It is for this, and many other reasons that we will be discussing in future posts, that it is helpful to try our best to describe a conflict as something relevant to the future.
Forward Looking and Abraham Lincoln
Arguably the best example in all of history of a statesman making use of the conflict requirement to take some time to turn from the past toward the future occurred when Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address.
Over forty thousand men died during the three-day battle at Gettysburg, and bitterness was in the hearts of those who came to hear Lincoln’s words. If asked for the reason to continue the war, many might have pointed to the violent events in the recent past and thrown vicious insults at the rebels. But Lincoln begins his speech reminding all in attendance what the war is about.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
After Lincoln’s first two sentences, he spends some time to show his respect for what has taken place:
We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
Although spending time to honor the brave men of the battle is altogether fitting and proper, Lincoln goes on to say that that is not enough.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground…. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Notice how Lincoln brilliantly moves his audience, all of whom are engaged in the conflict of their lives, from the vivid past to a relevant future. We all must learn to do this if we are to become experts in dealing with conflict.
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.