Generosity and Conflict – A Mighty Combo

By Philip Patston – Cross-posted from his blog:

Yesterday saw me land at two destinations (incidentally among five, which saw me breach my cardinal scheduling guideline of no more than three major appointments per day) which involved conflict. One was a formal human rights process, where I was supporting the complainant; the other a collegial misunderstanding where, as “employer”, I had a responsibility to facilitate an exploration and resolution.

The content of each circumstance was meaningful to all parties, but is meaningless in this context, which is lucky, because I couldn’t tell you anyway.

What will interest you more than the detail is that both had the potential to escalate into deeper legal and relationship wounds, but they didn’t. This I put down to a significant ingredient: generosity.

Generosity itself was not key to the tasty result, however. What made the real difference was who added the constructive essence. You would think it should be the offender, wouldn’t you?

But it wasn’t. In both cases the agrieved party mixed in a huge amount of generosity, creating a menu of opportunities for future growth.

Enough with the culinary metaphor.

In the legal case, we explored how both parties could have changed their behaviour rather than polarising blame. Despite their legal moral ground, my advocee generously considered what they could have done to prevent the unfair response.

I threw in a few hundred dollars worth of HR advice.

In return a heartfelt apology was offered along with an assurance of a recommendation for policy review and an opportunity to repeat the engagement that went wrong, with different people and a more open lens.

The exploration of collegial miscommunication I guided resulted in an hour-long discussion about how communication, teamwork and task allocation could be improved. Both parties created this by generously agreeing that each may have been unclear about the intent of the original communication.

Conflict needs generosity to heal. It needs a commitment to suspend judgement and seek solutions.

But most of all it needs the person who feels agrieved to model what they want from those by whom they feel offended.

It’s a tough pill to swallow and a lesson in counter-intuition.

And it’s a very, very effective recipe for conflict resolution, I promise you.

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