While attending Britain Yearly Meeting last year I went to the evening fair which allows attendees to learn about different Quaker organizations. At this fair, I saw a stand about having difficult conversations. The past year had been a rough one for me as it seemed virtually every organization I was involved with was absolutely needing to have these difficult conversations, but they just weren’t happening. Why? Well, they’re difficult. And I imagine there are at least some like me who hope a problem will just resolve itself, and sometimes it does. Sometimes a situation does need time to mature or mellow, or just lie fallow awhile – at least until parties can be calmer and have a discussion in the midst of conflict. Then the thing that seemed like such a conflict seems to fade away. But what if it doesn’t?
In the psychological language of response to threat as fight – flight – freeze I definitely fall into the freeze department. Actually, I would say I tend to “ignore” as a response to conflict. Engaging in conflict feels like making it worse. Conflict make me feel powerless and incapable. If I do respond, my solution is to get to the heart of the reason for the conflict which I want to “resolve.” Only recently am I coming around to the idea that not all conflicts can be resolved, at least not on my immediate timeline, definitely will not be solved by me alone, and most certainly will not forced into resolution. I also know that a true conflict ignored doesn’t go away and may in time get even worse the longer it is left to linger. A difficult conversation delayed often gets…..more difficult.
I am working towards having some of these long-overdue, difficult conversations this summer and with the help of this wiki developed by the Restoring Relations organization who were at that stand at BYM, I am beginning to prepare myself. This past month after having conversations with a friend, I came to realize that my intentions were not where they needed to be. I also came to the point that my true desire is not to hear “I am sorry” but rather for me to be able to say “I want to hear your story.”
What is your motivation and intention? If your intention is to prove that you are right, that someone else is wrong, that someone needs to be blamed, that things should be done in a particular way, then you are doomed to failure.
If on the other hand, you want to understand how a situation is perceived by everyone involved, learn why people see the situation the way they do, work out what has contributed to the situation and look for options and ways of working that will help avoid the situation in the future, then you have a much better chance of success.
At our upcoming annual gathering the keynote address is “How to Have Difficult Conversations about Racism without Losing your Voice or your Cool.” Difficult conversations are everywhere to be had. I hope that we are brave enough to have them. I hope we prepare enough to have them.