Tag Archives: conflict


Lessons from a Pig

You may have come across this story before:

Two drivers are careening down a country lane from opposite directions. The winding road is narrow and bounded on each side by hedgerows, affording little space for manoeuvre. One of the drivers, a gentleman, was focused on the road and thinking about his destination. Suddenly, from the opposite direction, a car appears, driving at speed. The two cars just manage to scrape pass each other without damaging the cars. The woman driving the other car shouts ‘Pig!’ as she passes by. The man quickly lowers his own window screen and yells back, ‘Cow!.

As he rounds the next bend he ploughs into a pig standing in the middle of the road.

There often lay behind conflict various assumptions we make about one another. I have often found this to be the case in work based conflicts and neighbourhood disputes. Individuals assume what the other one intends or thinks. ‘‘He is deliberately winding me up with his radio playing.” “She is trying to undermine my work.” “He is a racist!” “They are anti-social and do not care one bit for the wellbeing of others’. ‘He knows how I feel about that!” Etc. The problems then escalate in proportion to the lack of communication between individuals. Sometimes people are just too worked up to attempt direct communication, imagine that they can’t speak to the other person for whatever reasons or simply because the default position of talking about the other person rather than to them is so deeply rooted.

In the absence of direct communication between individuals, caricatures develop and issues multiply and become inflated. The enemy image that is nurtured regarding the other tends to lend weight to one’s own sense of righteousness and being hard-done by. It colours our perception of their every word and action. Where there is a power differential between individuals (e.g. one person has line management responsibilities in relation to the other) the prospects for distortion are immense.

I have often had the experience as a third party mediator of a palpable release of tension as individuals communicate with each other clearly and honestly, very often discovering facts about each other that were, up till then, unknown. Previous perceptions are put into a very different context of understanding we light is shed on them through actually listening to one another. On one memorable occasion, two neighbours who had loathed each other because of an on-going conflict over noise issues not only came to view each other in a manner stripped of previous assumptions but came to an amicable agreement and then shared the cost of a taxi home. I discovered sometime later that when one of the women was widowed shortly thereafter, the neighbour with whom she had been in conflict became a major source of support for her.

But conflicts do not necessarily have to be resolved by third party mediation. We CAN talk to each other. Sometimes, because of habit, we may need someone to coach us along the way. In workplace situations management can help by helping to create an atmosphere of wholesome communication and providing support, from outside if needs be, when communication breaks down. Conflict resolution, empathetic listening and communication training are an investment in people and workforce well worth making.

Where there is a habit and culture of open and honest communication assumptions can be tested before they become hardened into ‘truths’ about one another and conflict processed in a way that is healthy and promotes wellbeing.

So the next time someone shouts ‘Pig!’ in your direction you may wish to consider your assumptions about what they mean. And do drive carefully.

angry voter 2

Before You Drive Your SUV Over Your Spouse…

The post-election rants from voters disappointed with the re-election of President Obama have in turn been amusing and disturbing. One pundit has predicted that there will never again be an election as Obama will stay put in the White House, trash the constitution and rule by executive order for the foreseeable future.  The more religious orientated among the disheartened have regaled us with biblical texts, called for repentance and taken some schadenfreude at the prospect of a consequent apocalypse. One preacher has declared that the president’s victory is a prelude to the reign of Antichrist.

The Heavens have apparently been shaken and God’s ire roused by those who voted for the Democratic ticket. Not a surprise then that there are now petitions circulating in some of the states calling for secession from the Union.

In a not unrelated story, a woman in Arizona ran over and seriously injured her husband with her SUV for failing to vote in the election. Holly Solomon was upset about President Obama’s electoral triumph and accordingly held her husband to account.  She blames Obama for many of her recent hardships. (Though I suspect mental instability and a taste for the odd bit of violence may also play a role here.) It is no coincidence that some of the most aggressive, fear-fuelled polarising rhetoric re: President Obama had found a home in Arizona.  And to be fair, on a wider front, this  generally proceeded from both camps. Just check out the various posts leading up to the election about both candidates on social networking sites like Facebook, etc. Some of the commentary was as comic as it was fictional; but much of it was vicious and hateful.  And that what concerns me.

The polarising language – whether in the form of liberal gloating or conservative hysterics –  underscored by its black and white vision of the world, barely conceals a violence that may prove seductive to fringe characters. For them actual violence may be seen as a redemptive alternative. They may even see themselves as somehow heroic, patriotic and servants of God. (The Taliban are not alone in sipping from that heady cocktail of fear, rage, hatred and religious ideology.) Hilarity at pictures of secessionists holding placards misspelling ‘secede’ as ‘SEECED’ aside, it all points to a kind of excess that I trust is only marginal –however loud -among conservatives and liberals alike. But the problem with this kind of excess is that it takes on a life of its own. The world becomes a distorted place where those who disagree are demonised as enemies of God.

Liberals and conservatives – and how I dislike these pigeon holing terms – will do well to abandon the polarising discourse that in the long term simply feeds a violent mind-set. Let go of the caricatures and, in some cases, deliberate falsehoods we have flung at one another and replace it with sound debate and reflective analysis.I say we all vote for a more responsible public discourse. We will still disagree because we will be starting from different sets of priorities.  But there will be no need to throw a wobbly and ‘secede’ from the national sandbox with our toys because the democratic process has gone in a way that disappoints us