The Inevitability of Interpersonal Conflict

One of the most depressing insights in Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower is that 9/11 would in all likelihood been avoided if key figures in the upper reaches of the FBI and CIA had respected one another more, communicated better, and in the end, just plain got along. Instead, the people entrusted with our security despised one another, purposely withheld information from one another, and didn’t do as good a job as they could and should have.

Recently a friend told me his pastor and the church’s worship leader don’t get along at all, to the point that it’s become a distraction for others in the church.

While reading on the couch the other day, a teenager approached me and said, “Can you go downstairs and read so I can watch t.v.?” “In ten minutes.” “Why?! Why can’t you just read downstairs now?!” Mind swirls, pulse doubles, beads of sweat form on brow, firey mini-lecture bubbles over. Teenager angrily retreats to bedroom. Once my pulse returns to near normal, I pursue my prey. She’s maimed and I’m going in for the kill. If she thought my original response was tough-minded, she’s about to be served a super-sized version of the same.

While approaching the bedroom door I worry it’s not going to go well. This particular teen, who will remain anonymous, is a digger-inner. Whenever there’s a conflict, instead of taking some responsiblity for it, she almost always defends herself.  So when mid-lecture, she quietly said, “I’m sorry,” she stopped me dead in my tracks.

Her apology immediately defused everything. I thanked her and later praised her maturity in front of her mother. It was a teachable moment, the lesson being, conflict is inevitable. Nobody is ever immune from it. Maybe “normal” or “natural” are even better words. Our challenge is to get more comfortable with it. And to figure out how we sometimes escalate it and other times defuse it.

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