Archive for the ‘conflicts’ Category

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Psalm 133:1

Good stuff, unity, but several times in life I have had a front row seat to how painful and unpleasant it is when God’s people live together in  disunity.

I have watched long-standing and loyal friendship fray, unravel and fall in pieces to the floor in a matter of a few weeks.

It happens. I’ve seen it in several forms. It happens all the time. High-minded, principled, moral people in government, church and business settings shred each other.  It’s probably happened to you. If not, get closely involved with good people. Be patient. Be honest. It will come.

What causes what’s good to get so bad, so fast?

The answers are simple, present for anyone who wants to see them.  We humans, even we so called good ones, we mature one, we are very fragile in ego and self-image, and when we perceive that someone is taking from us something that we want, when we feel that we are losing control of our property or earned status or long-fought for identity or social place, we get crazy inside — fast.

And crazy inside  goes crazy outside to try to get things back to our way. In a panic to be recognized, hyper-anxious to be valued, obsessed with preserving some gain, we say or write stuff that harms others.  Crazy to appear successful, crazy to be known, crazy to be on top blows up families and friendship and organization right and left. 

I watched Jobs last week, the story of Steve Jobs and Apple computer’s rise to success. There it is. What’s mine is mine, what I made is mine, and if you try to take it away from me you’ll pay for it. Jobs pretty much had the mindset that his success, Apple’s success was more important than his precious relationships.

This is true of many of us, although not all. Many of us carry a bit of  Steve Job’s selfishness inside, me too.  We want what we want and when we don’t get what we want we are tempted to sacrifice dear relationship in order to get what we want.

But, back to the Psalm.  When we do dwell in unity, man how good that is! It is peaceful, safe, good, the best! And it shines even brighter after we’ve seen how bad it is when we choose to  reside in darker and more harmful places.

The solutions? Again, they are simple, like the problem. Practice humility. Choose to love. Be willing to listen. Be open to solutions that both sides can live with. Promote unity. Have the wisdom to realize that our most precious relationships are far more valuable than our public successes.

Lately, my wife has been a good example of unifying love. She has loved me unselfishly and tirelessly.

Ah, how good and pleasant it is to dwell with her.

Words for each other, where do we find them? How do we craft them? 

As a leader, and as a writer, and husband and father and friend, I’ve had no end of agony attempting to answer those questions in specific cases, especially involving conflict. It’s been hard to find the right words for the other person.

But it really matters, what we say and how we say it. 

Recently a fellow leader sent me an email expressing strong emotions and reactions concerning another leader. He asked if the content was okay and if the message should be sent. I  wrote back that the content was salient — it was actually right on the money —  but the emotion-laden conversation that needed to happen could not be handled by an email. It could only be well-handled face-to-face, with dialogue, with a back-and-forth. By the time the fellow leader got my response, however, he himself had decided not to send it.


What we think, what is going on inside of us, what we want to communicate to others, it always needs time — like a finely prepared dessert —  to bake, cool, set, mingle flavors and receive the final drippings and toppings essential for good presentation and excellent consumption. Writing out our thoughts and feelings, not sending them, ruminating a while on content, living a little, editing, this produces the best product.  By taking our time we find words and feelings mingling wisely within; by waiting we find verbal toppings and relational dollops of tastiness to add to the our eventual expressions.

What are we saying?

When you feel strongly, pause wisely. What may not be heard with one set of words, may be heard with another. What polarizes in print may soften in dialogue. And what might be not heard at one time, by one person, may be heard at another time by another person. 

I just finished a novel. It’s a dysbiopian fantasy, but it unveils modern, relevant reality. We struggle to accept those different from ourselves.  I started wiring this novel for my children 35 years ago. Yesterday, as I added some final lines to the wrenching conflict at the end of the story, I was aware that the word I wrote would have been impossible for me to write years ago. I had not yet lived the  life experiences that extruded them out of me. My novel needed words, that needed time, to come into being. 

At the end of the novel one of the main characters — following a devastating conflict that uproots and destroys a whole community says, “Fear designed and built the first wall; love crafted the first door — and opened it.”

The antagonist to this point of view refutes this strongly saying, “No, different from each other crafted the first wall. It had to in order to survive! Love just made that fine wall higher — for protection. It’s the same as it has always been. Mind your own business, keep to your own kind, except when attacked, that’s the deal — period, exclamation point, done.”

The response? “No, that’s not right. There are no end stops here — not with this devastation in front of us — no simplistic formulae, no pithy morals for our paltry fable, no superheroes to protect us now, no perfect symbionts present, no borders that end all our disputes, no furious, final family fixes. Advocating that we open the door to each other is a simple gesture, a clumsy nod toward sane knowing, a small hopeful sun to shine over this disaster, something —  just perhaps something —  to help us blunder painfully forward to better times.”

If I had tried to write the closing dialogue between the main conflicting characters 35 years ago, I would not have come up with that. I think I would have come up with something much more more categorical, more judgmental, more arrogant, more moralistic than advocating opening a door to each other as a “clumsy nod toward knowing.” I was able to write that now because I know so much less now than I used to. 

Some words need to get knocked out of us, by life. Other words can only be knocked into us by experience. Time and patience, resulting in a bit of humility, craft our best speaches.

I just hope I can remember that the next time I get upset. 

Jealousy —  it is the reaction no one admits but everyone has. It is like an old, ugly piece of clothing that we refuse to throw away. We keep it at the back of our closet. A few of us have tossed it under the bed. It is still there.

I lost a friendship once — jealousy. I myself once ran over the top of another person. My steamroller? It came thundering out of my own ugly jealousy. It feels shameful to admit this.

A young woman told me last week that one of her bridesmaids was throwing a fit about the dress that she was being asked to wear to the wedding. We talked about where the girl is at in life, what she doesn’t have that she wants to have. Her little hissy fit? It is about more than the dress.

I asked a friend recently,  “What do you think the cure for jealousy is?” I expected a platitude about humility, but she surprised me by saying, “Success.”

The cure for jealousy is success.

When we get to attending to what we want to do, what we need to do, with working out our happy hopes and exciting dreams, we will be too focused on our work to be jealous. True, but I think the curative doesn’t not merely lie within the distraction of focus, although that helps, it also lies within the abandoning of comparisons.

Someone will always be more favored, prettier, more powerful, wealthier,  smarter — no matter how much we succeed. We must refuse the comparison.

We must because we are not them, we are us, and we are where we are at, and we are who we are, and we will do well to  make the most of that, with no furtive glances — tinged with enviafication — to either side.

Nothing endures like helplessness.

Yup, helplessness just hangs in there and suffers, hopelessly, without taking any action, repeating the same narratives to explain the past, arguing for what happened, because helplessness believes it couldn’t and can’t change anything.

This morning I talked to a young woman trying to recover from her family’s bad choices —  substance abuse, addiction, divorce.

She said something like, “I am done with playing the victim.”

“Me too,” I told her. “I’m looking ahead not back, focusing on what I can do, not judging other people for what they did, or do. I’m done with judging people.”

She gave the “Amen” to that. I prayed for her. I believe God is all about moving on toward a good future.

But interestingly, last night I had a dream where I was trying to make clear to someone why a past relationship I had, failed, and I found myself explaining that in that particularly complicated version of bad blood — while I had clearly made mistakes — I had almost always been a positive force, an idea-crafter, a problem-at-hand-solver, a way-forward pointer, and that this was never, ever ungrudingly acknowledged by the other person. Instead it was turned to blame.

It’s a victim’s mantra, my explanation to someone else, my story retold, that narrative about what wasn’t acknowledged, what someone did to me or didn’t do for me or wouldn’t admit or hid so that they could villainize me.  My narrative may be true, (actually it is),  the damage done may have been real (it was), but it won’t help me much to tell it to that person.

I was reading in the Bible this morning and a verse stood out, “Do everything without arguing.” 


I don’t have to stand toe-to-toe with those who have offended me and argue my perspective in order for me to be okay, for me to move on, for my story to be validated.  Neither do you. And that wouldn’t likely work anyway.  Head-to-head, we most likely wouldn’t be heard by the other side — the two differing stories would compete, there would only be noise. Loud voices only deepen divides. I know. I’ve stood by and watched people do this.

In other words, I don’t need to argue for my version of my past. I don’t need someone else to affirm this. If my story is true, then it is true, and if it helps me to see it, then it helps me, but I don’t need to convince anyone else of it. There is no vindication in that.

This is not to say that victims don’t need to tell their stories in court or confront their abusers. They do. But when court is impossible and victimizers won’t listen, at some point it becomes counterproductive to keep going over and over the same narrative and not moving forward

What I need is to be self-affirming, to know who I am, and to keep building on that. I have always been a leader, a problem solve, an idea sharer. I always have been that. That is who I am. This is who I always will be. I am a vision leader, a path finder, a good team player, and my current role at my job totally affirms that.

I help other people be successful by seeing what is possible for them, by seeing what is next, for them, by seeing what is next, for us.

What I need to do is just keep doing that.

While nothing endures like helplessness, it is also true that nothing endures like essential character, and not playing the victim, and hope and authenticity, and knowing oneself and moving on.

I’m not helpless. I am not stuck in the past.

I like myself like that.

There is a some angst in the United States these days and it surfaces in the fear of strangers, and it takes on the language of “us” and “them,” and the language of our national “greatness.”

People say things like “We Americans need take care of ourselves first, we need to do what is best for us, we need protect our interests so we can be great again.” This makes sense to many people who aren’t doing well economically and to people who feel that they have lost power or place or status.

As a result our national sentiment has grown in being against those who aren’t like us. It is in vogue to suspect the stranger. The thinking is that they keep us from being great.

People of another color, people from another religion, people from another socio-economic background, people from another country — too often, these days, they are suspect. If they are not of us then perhaps they are not for us.


But the facts are this; we are one humanity, one human family, all cut from the same cloth, all bearing the same needs, wanting many of the same things, and in truth — to be quite spiritual about this —  we are made, according to holy writ, in the same image.

I’m am not suggesting that there are not people to fear, dangerous ones  — there are — but I am suggesting that difference in culture, color, cult or cannon, doesn’t not mean that we can’t — even if we are strange to each other — respect one another, live close to each other, and even benefit from each other, and even help each other avoid harm from dangerous ones.

And, in fact, we do, benefit from each other.

I ran across a really interesting book a while back, The Necessity of Strangers. In it, the author, Alan Gregerman, asks the question, “What if strangers are more important than friends?”

He then explains that the advantage to strangers is that they can fill in the gaps in our knowledge. They can teach us stuff, and thus help us be more innovative and help us create more value and help us make our world great.

Is this true?

It has been for me.

At two points in my life, I have been overwhelmed by difficulty.  At both those times, I have gone to counseling for therapy. The two best counselors of my life were both Chinese women, both with PhD’s, one a Christian, one not. They helped move toward greatness, if my greatness is defined as surviving and triumphing in the face of difficulty, if greatness is defined as being more loving, if greatness is defined as being more understanding of emotions and becoming more skilled in handling conflict.

These strangers, these wise, educated women, from other countries, helped healed my heart. They did me much good. Professional counseling — think about it  —  it is the knowing and unburdening our hearts, to strangers, who can perhaps be more objective than family and fiends, who have been trained to have more skill in responding to relational hurt and difficulty.

This is not all. This is not the sole example of strangers who help, who have helped me, who help all of us.

Many, many strangers, people very different from us, have benefited each of us in the United States.

Strangers, in the form of farmers, grow our food. Strangers, in the form of doctors — virtual strangers, many from other countries — have treated and healed our diseases. Strangers from other countries — and strangers here in America  —   they have made and perfected the the technology we drive and the advanced tech we work with and communicate with. Strangers, from the past and present, have written the books that have influenced our thinking, they have made the great discoveries that has given us better lives, advanced the best political systems, furthered civilization, done us all much good.

It is endless. Our lives are enriched and sustained by strangers. Our scientific, philosophical, cultural, psychological, sociological, historical and spiritual knowledge has been built up and perfected by the work of strangers, both in other countries and in ours

And economic peace and prosperity —  if that is one of our standards of greatness in our now globally dependent system — will very much hinge on the cooperation of strangers.

I have nothing against striving for greatness, but as we do, we would do well to remember this: strangers, they have made us great, again and again.

“Thanks for your openness to fix this issue,” I said, “It’s refreshing.”

“You make it easy,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied

I could feel us both relax, sooth and groove into a glassy-smooth pool of safe relating   — which, by the way —  we had generated by not letting relational anxiety ruffle our water.

It was two bullfrogs, easing off a low rock together, and slipping into a calm pond for a good swim.

Our conversation involved fixing something that wasn’t working well, it involved change, it involved moving from a mildly shaky and a-tad-bit-risky to more orderly, professional and reliable.

And we did move there, without criticism, hurt, blame or drama.

Conclusions can be drawn from this.

When anyone makes a mistake, fails to perform, does something other than what is the best practice, the way forward is though simple honesty about what didn’t work, and simple candor about what we can do together to improve the situation.

To all supervisors, bosses, spouses, teachers, parents and various and sundry knuckle-headed leaders of all kinds —  as you oversee your team, your family, your staff, as they make mistakes, as you make mistakes, as all of us forget to do things or fail to act out the organizational culture that we want fostered —  do the following ten things to keep things good:

  1. Stay calm; quell anxiety; slow down; slow time.  
  2. Avoid making quick assumptions and impulsive responses.
  3. Proactively and bravely initiate face-to face discussions of problems; ask questions; understand what happened; circle up and investigate together.   
  4. Through the use of neutral verbal tones and a relaxed verbal gaits, create a conversational atmosphere where it is safe to be imperfect and safe to talk about that. 
  5. Don’t blame or criticize, rather be gentle, be kind.
  6.  Own the problem together, suffer it with each other, take it on as a team.  
  7. Look forward, not back. You can’t change the past; you can change the future. 
  8. Explore and suggest solutions that work best for everyone. 
  9. Stay humble; be reasonable; keep in mind that better (not perfect) is still good. 
  10. Finally, keep it real, keep it located on the planet, no one is perfect — not even you. 

Recently, a most precious family member and I dove into a common problem of precarious proportion.

We were very honest about our feelings, and our preferences, and we were very tender with each other regarding our imperfections.

We made it easy on each other, or as easy as possible.

Partial solutions came to mind over several days — not several minutes — they were coated in kindness, drizzled with gentleness, and baked in love.

We were pilfering old wisdom, plundering ancient relational truth, “above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Colossians 3:14

Since the November election many savvy American commentators have sagely noted that we are a divided country.

“Do ya think?”

The odds of running into people who think the opposite of what you do about politics are about fifty-fifty.

So what do you do when faced with a person espousing different views from your own?

How about if you say, “Will you tell me more about that?”

It’s a great line, the kind of verbiage that can help us all immensely, the kind of language that can help us to just get on with it, with the understanding part, without someone getting hurt.

Not every adversative is a casus belli.

When people say something that we disagree with socially, epistemologically, theologically — or God forbid, politically — when inside we react to that dissonant point-of-view fast-breathingly, jaw-clenchingly and froth-mouthingly, then I suggest that we all — including myself — stay seated, and that we lean in toward our perceived opponent, that we place our forearms on our knees in an open and relaxed posture, that we nod in a positive and inviting manner and looking straight into their ignorant, narrow-minded, uninformed eyes we say gently, “Tell me more about that.”

Here is the deal, for me and for you, oh wise ones,  first just, “Be quiet!” Do that to protect your hearts — and to give space for understanding and to protect other people’s sense of safety in our presence.

There will be plenty of opportunites to say what we think — which of course is okay to do, and which of course we will do at appropriate times — but first let’s take control of ourselves, first let’s stop thinking of what we want to say back, and then let’s go at it by asking questions, so we can breathe again. First let’s go into listening mode, first try to understand, first be curious, open, calm, investigative, smart.


We tend not to understand the other side — too much. We tend to think we are right — too much. We tend to argue when we should learn — too much. To get smart, to do well, to keep our friends — our work or school colleagues —  to keep our families together, to keep our churches together, to make new friends, to not have stress disorders and to get more wise and sagey, we need to open ourselves to people who think differently than we do.

It is a mark of maturity to listen to, to like, to love and even to adore people we disagree with. It is a mark of a good thinker to listen to all sides. The ancient, trustworthy and wise Holy Scripture itself tells us that true wisdom is “open to reason.”

Listening doesn’t mean we have to change our perspectives, our opinions or our values. It just means that we are open to understanding someone else’s viewpoint. This so helps; it helps us not to run off the steep and scary cliff of trying to make everyone else think like we do.

They won’t, much, or they will, sometimes, or not.

Give it a rest.

How do we survive the divisions in our country?

We get smart; we get back to learning from and about each other.

We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are not better than us, to accept you as our king and soverign lord, provided you observe all our liberites and laws — but if not, not.”

This was the oath of allegiance sworn by Catalans and Aragonese to the Spanish monarch in Madrid in the 15th Century.

I love it!

It’s in-your-face; it’s respectful.

It’s got commitment in it; it’s got a brash sense of liberty hanging around it; it has boundaries.

This oath respects that we take on different roles, but that those roles don’t make anyone better than any one else. That’s right.

Mutual respect, mutual value and mutual good are at the core of all good relationships. For love to exist, both sides must honor and value the other.

This fits us; it squares with democracy; it squares with our modern marriages; it squares up nicely with modern society.

Men and women must equally honor each other. Races must value other races. Rich and poor — mutual respect. Parents should respect their children, the children respect the parents.

Differing faiths are fine to differ, but they must not hate and attack each other. Political parties exist to put forward contrasting opinions, but hate, disrespect and personal attacks will ruin both. Having differing ideas doesn’t necessarily  make either side evil, it just makes them different.

The best relating is a confident, everything-on-the-table negotiation. It is dialogue, with respectful boundaries — well put.

If yes, yes; if not, not.

We make a pact to honor.

Let’s not let it get to not.

“She’s a liar,” he yelled, staring at me super-intently, as if intensity would convince.

It didn’t.

“Do you have any issues?” I asked as calmly as I could manage.

“We all have issues!” he yelled back in a tone that implied, “You are so stupid for even asking me that; everybody knows that we all have issues!”

I paused thinking fast, taking a slow-fast motion pan over the entire scene in front of me.

It is interesting how much tone communicates.

It is also interesting how we can speak to it without even conscious awareness of what we are doing. In my brain there was a kind of automatic voice that told me, “He just deflected your attempt to help him, so you better try again.

I asked, “Might your issues be affecting your relationship with her?”

He blew.

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fun, and what he said next wasn’t true.

Standing there in the doorway of the church office, looking out at him — him so angry, in attack mode — it was vaguely clear to me that he was trying to get some truth out. So I helped him.

“I think she’s doing a good job,” I said, keeping my voice quiet. He waved me off, frustrated, threw up his hands, turned his back on me and strode off across the parking lot.

“Bless you!” I called after him. He just kept walking. I felt kind of stupid saying that, it was so cliched, but I was grasping for some way to end this well, to show that I wanted his good, that I wasn’t really mad at him, and that he did belong in our organization. I got it that he so badly wanted a bit of power and dignity. Who doesn’t? I don’t want him to lose value.

It was a conflict. I was mildly rattled — not much.

I have been thinking about this kind of thing lately. I want to learn how to go through conflict like I go through a good night’s sleep — turning over softly — so as not to wake my wife — breathing regularly, resting on my own firm but comfortable relational mattress.

How do I manage conflict well? How do any us?

First, in conflict with someone, it is essential to remain calm, so that we might do our best to bring them and ourselves no harm — or as little harm as possible — by always offering up careful, simple, helpful words — mostly questions.

We must figure out the truth together, gently, so we can at least remain at rest. And we must not duck, the way most humans instinctively do, and go get other people to do our work for us. We are responsible to enter into our own conflicts, thinking well.

This week I sat in my office looking at a letter I had just received from someone I am trying to help. Here it was again. Conflict. This person had their own issue to work out, but they were turning on our organization!

It’s interesting. If you try to help some people, they bite you! You become the problem — so they can avoid their problem.

In the moment, in the first wave of emotion, harsh responses to them easily come to mind. I am learning to dismiss those.

If I have learned anything about conflict, I have learned that my first reaction to people is usually one that needs some work. I am responsible to do well by them, no matter how hostile I initially feel.

In conflict, at first I am upset. That’s normal. I have learned not to act on that kind of normal. My upset needs time, and self-coaching — sometimes just seconds, sometimes days — to cool. I need just a bit of time to sort out how I should best respond.

I am learning, slowly, through managing conflicts in several organizations which I now help lead — churches and counseling entities– how to do the work, in the moment and later, required to stay calm and clear-headed.

Having a good conflict is like repainting an old room — the prep, the self-prep once you get going, is the biggest part of the job.

This week a high-level leader I work with made a decision that limited another one of the many young leaders I oversee. I was frustrated by how this might cause several of our organizations to lose traction.

I wasn’t sure what to do, so I shared the issue with several of my colleagues, several wise, business-savvy, senior leaders. It was good. Nothing is yet settled, but we are starting some good process to bring a win-win solution to the many different professional organizations these matters effects.

A big part of the work needed in successful conflict resolution comes in creating calm space in which we can all clarify the real issues, focusing only on the areas that really need renewing, and then proceeding very carefully, with the good of all in mind — and with lots of clarifying questions handy.

In conflict, I must ever remain the learner, learning as I go how to bring healing words to everyone.

In tension with people, back-door work, stair-work, padded-room work, reflective-work protects us and everyone else from the stupidity of blaming and shaming each other.

Good process, in the midst of conflict, process well done, with skill, is something that minimizes harm, maximizes healing and becomes something we can later stand back and admire.

I’ve seen poor conflict resolution. The root issues were never even mentioned. People didn’t process their own emotions or each other’s. There was only an effort to blame each other for some superficial problems, to cover up the real problems and to ultimately create a loser and a winner. Nobody took much responsibility for themselves. I hated it. I think it can go better than that.

It helped me, however, learn to adore slow-motion, good-outcome, self-reflective, completely candid, win-win conflict resolution.

Here is the bottom line. To have a struggle between us go well, we must first do the work inside ourselves, we must take control of ourselves, and we must learn to sit back — in a relational easy chair that we pull up to the conflict — and relax, and gather self-knowledge and wise words and discover good questions.

In tension with others, we must first cover, we must first softly blanket the struggle with the gorgeous, quilted masterpiece our own self-quieting work.

A while back, the latch on my side gate fell off. Don’t you hate it when you lose your latch?

The wood two-by-four that the metal latch was screwed on to had rotted. The gate wouldn’t stay closed.

So I went to work. I knocked off the old wood, replaced it with new wood, screwed back on the latch — all good. My gate stays closed again — nice and solid.

I was talking to a friend a few years ago who had a conflict with someone else I knew. The latch was coming off their relationship.

She said to me, “I’m a runner!”

What she meant was that when relationships got hard, she ran from the conflict. This time, true to form, she ran — clear across the country. When she came back, it wasn’t to the same place. I miss her.

I was talking to someone else this week. There is conflict on the team which she oversees in our organization. She told me, “Don’t worry! I’m not going anywhere!” She’s a stayer. She is willing to mend a latch.

Rot, difficulty, conflict — it’s normal, expected, certain to come, at home, work, community and church. But usually, with courage and some skill, and the willingness to stay through it, something broken can be repaired.

What is absolutely necessary to get a fix is to not run. To mend our relational gates we must stay for honest conversations, risk expressing underlying emotions, come to workable solutions, craft action plans that create win-win solutions.

The other day I spent some time deleting some contacts from my mobile phone. Many of them had moved. People come and go. We always have a few special ones to delete from our contacts, maybe even some people who have harmed us, whom we shouldn’t talk to anymore. They don’t get us. They limit us. Perhaps they dominate us. We delete them. That’s okay. Its protection.

But here is the deal: Delete who you must. Especially be courageous in deleting those who bring you ruin with their bad choices, but don’t delete the precious people who God has given you to love — family, team, coworkers, therapists, fellow students, friends — even when they aren’t perfect. With them, be a stayer!

Your people, those within your yard, those protected by your gate, your magnificent messes, all your sweet ones, all your fragile precious ones whom God has given you, when it comes to them — mend the latch.