This week, I´ve been bringing you some insights from the authors of a new book called The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict. In the book, Jim Ferrell and Duane Boyce of The Arbinger Institute examine the ways that people deny a truthfulness that can help them pinpoint the origins of conflict. If you´ve ever experienced conflict in the workplace (who hasn´t?) or in your personal life, then you´re likely to learn something from the principles set forth in the book. Here´s my final installment of an interview with Ferrell and Boyce:
Q: Are there some relationships that are simply not salvageable?
A: Some relationships are dangerous, and they certainly should be avoided. As to other relationships, it´s true that some can´t be salvaged, but we have to be careful here. Typically when we think a relationship is doomed we think it is doomed by the other person. But what if we´re the problem and just can´t see it? This is a crucial question, and it is what all the characters in our book finally discover: We are often the problem even when we don´t think we are. In fact, it´s wise to assume that we´re a problem especially when we don´t think we are.
So, before deciding whether a relationship is unsalvageable, we should seriously ask a few questions about ourselves: "Could I be the one who is making this relationship unsalvageable without knowing it?" "Has my own heart been at peace, or at war?" "Where I have needed to, have I tried to change only at the surface (at the level of my outward behavior), or have I tried to change deeply (at the level of my way of being)?" "Have I focused on helping things go right between us, or have I been focused simply on fixing what I see wrong in the other person?" And so on. The characters in our story learn a whole structure for considering relationships and how to strengthen them. It begins with examining ourselves, not superficially but genuinely.
Q: You say that business conflicts exist because people like the conflicts they´re in. What do you mean by this? Don´t people who are having trouble with their colleagues or who disagree with management want to find solutions?
A: Remember that when we are in conflict we are mistreating each other and justifying ourselves by blaming one another. This means something peculiar: We actually need others to mistreat us so that we can be justified in our mistreatment of them. We get mileage out of their mistreatment; we exploit it. Not only that, but the more conflict we have-the more others mistreat us-the more we can blame that for any poor results we produce. So: We may not like all the tension and unpleasantness caused by conflict, but we do like the justification we find in it.
This is one reason conflict typically lasts so long. However much we both say we hate the conflict and wish it would change, at the same time we are both getting justification from it. That is not motivation to stop; that is motivation to continue! This is something that the characters in our story all discover about themselves. On one level, it is true, they want solutions to their conflicts; but on another level they all find their conflicts . . . useful. That´s why they get stuck in them.