Please Be Patient...
To be experts
we need to
are my own
can I be
a better listener,
years ago I
coached a family business
CEO (Bob) and President (Helen) who had different worldviews and different
levels of trust in each others' capability. Bob, an Enneagram
Seven, saw his younger
sibling as "too hard-working, too focused on the details and not enough on our
strategy." Helen, an Enneagram
Six, saw her older brother as "ignoring the
business," more interested in chewing the fat with customers than in doing the
paperwork required to administer his part of the organization. (Sevens often look to the organization's future; Sixes want to make
sure all the bases are covered.)
With their input, I
started the consultation with
a review of conflict management dynamics. Filley pointed out as long ago as 1975 (Interpersonal
Conflict Resolution) that while we have a choice between behavior
that (1) defeats
one or both of us or (2) provides mutually beneficial solutions, we also have unconsciously learned patterns of competition, dominance, aggression,
and defense. The use of
problem-solving skills, on the other hand,
appears to require conscious effort to develop and practice.
All the sources I researched concurred that
each needs to
treat the other's concerns as legitimate if they expected the same consideration
in return. Rather than interpreting each other's motives through their own
filters, they needed to listen and learn – to show empathy, promote equality, be
creative, collaborative, and spontaneous.
told them it's common to protect one's self-image by strategizing
to keep things within our own control, becoming
we feel threatened, acting on our assumptions, and using
In fact, the most common and most unproductive trap in approaching conflict is
to change the other person. In a very real sense
the only person you know you can
change is yourself.
Ironically, in my work with Bob and Helen I didn't practice what I preached. After three meetings I abruptly terminated the
consultation because I thought Bob was being dishonest. Although I'd emphasized the
importance of open communication, he continued to say one thing in private and another in
our meetings with Helen.
Instead of confronting him and modeling the conflict resolution skills
we'd rehearsed, I obsessed over his behavior for days. I blamed him for the
failure of our work together (citing to myself the many successes I'd had in similar
circumstances and – by the way – protecting my self-image and avoiding what I anticipated as
a difficult confrontation). This is how dysfunctional patterns keep
If I'd stepped aside for just a
moment when I became aware of my own anxiety, I could have asked him why his
behavior was different in meetings than in private with me. I could have asked myself how
his behavior was threatening me, what investment I had in certain outcomes. I could have told him I felt frustrated, and why, and asked
him to work with me to improve our relationship.
Bob and Helen might never have been able
to work better together (I heard they did eventually split). But he'd have had a
powerful model of approaching conflict constructively.
I did tell Bob by phone that his behavior was inconsistent
and I wasn't sure he was serious about doing the work. I also said I'd work with
him in the future after he'd practiced the skills
agreed to in private with me ("I'll call
you," he said...).
But notice I wasn't talking about our relationship or what I brought to the
interaction that caused me to react so strongly.
saw a bumper sticker:
be patient...God isn't finished with me yet. I try to be patient with myself, to
stay in the process, to remember to "step aside," when I can, from
my own defenses and preconceptions. I hope you will be equally patient with yourself.