Avoid Becoming Relationally Shipwrecked

On May 7th a tragedy occurred. A warning was given. Twelve-Thousand and one people drowned many who were children. Sadly, this day in history could have been avoided.  On May 7th, 1915, the Lusitania, one of the fastest liners in the world was hit by a German torpedo causing it to sink within 20 minutes. The great tragedy of this day was this disaster may have been avoided if only the captain had listened. The “British admiralty warned the Lusitania to avoid the area or take simple evasive actions, such as zigzagging to confuse U-boats plotting the vessel’s course.” For whatever reason the captain ignored them, and the rest is history. Is there a lesson to be learned? We think so.

Certainly most of us do not face life or death decisions like the captain of the Lusitania faced, however all of us face relational conflicts that are vital to our relational health. Whether at home, school, work or other social areas we all experience the ups and down that come as part of being in relationships with family members, co-workers and friends. And if we want to have healthy relationships, we must shrewdly navigate the tortuous waters in order not to find ourselves relationally shipwrecked. We would like to share with you a few recommendations that could be useful as you avoid certain areas of conflict or use evasive tactics to elude or lesson the blow of the relational missiles that are sure to come.

  1. Learn to listen. This is an area that we all struggle with especially in the midst of conflict. Because we operate a team building company, we have the opportunity to witness this struggle up close and personal. Experiential learning, which basically means learning by doing, is the vehicle that we use to help groups grow in their ability to navigate the conflicts that they experience in their work groups, school groups or teams. When presented with a challenge, a group learns healthy ways to work through conflict and problems.  Because of this work, the group ultimately  establishes relationship patterns that permanently impact the group’s long term success.  We have observed that a major hindrance to many groups has been the inability to listen in the midst of conflict. Stephen Covey made this same observation saying, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Another author addresses the problem by simply saying, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” We like to paraphrase it by sayingIf spend most of your time listening and trying to understand, you will spend less time defending and being a hot head.”
  2. Learn what to avoid. Yes, sometimes conflict needs to be avoided all together.  It’s called sensitivity! Going back to the tragedy of the Lusitania, the British admiralty warned the captain because they had experienced conflict in those waters before. Their basic message was “Don’t Go There!” We sometime need to learn from past experience that certain topics are “Don’t Go There” topics for some people. Learning what those sensitive topics are will go a long way in knowing how to approach, or not approach, areas of conflict.Another way to avoid conflict is to learn how to de-escalate situations. The basic message here is “Back Away!” In their article “How to Avoid Conflict With People,” Jennn Fusion and Demand Media suggest, “If someone is angry, respond compassionately by acknowledging their feelings and finding points of agreement. If the anger is directed at you, a sincere apology is always disarming.” You will be amazed how being able to acknowledge fault can help de-escalate a situation.
  3. Learn helpful conflict tactics. In Jack Canfield’s book “The Success Principle,” he talks about something called “Heart Talks.” “Heart Talks” are useful before meetings, when an emotionally charged event occurs, when there is conflict between people or groups; and on a regular basis at home, in the office, and in the classroom.

How is a “Heart Talk” conducted?
Begin a Heart Talk with two to 10 people. Explain that by following the guidelines, a safe, nonjudgmental space will be created to support everyone. Assemble the members in a circle and introduce the basic rules:

1) Only the person holding the heart (or other object) talks.
2) No one judges or criticizes what anyone else has said.
3) Pass the object to the left after your turn.
4) Talk about how you feel.
5) Keep the information you hear confidential.
6) Don’t leave the room until everyone agrees that the talk is complete.

Post these guidelines where everyone can see them. If someone gets off track, point to the guideline they’ve broken.

Go around the group at least once so that everyone gets a turn. Keep starting over with the first person and going around until nobody has anything else to say. In that case, say “pass” when the object reaches you.

What benefits can be expected from a “Heart Talk?”
A “Heart Talk” enhances people’s listening skills, provides a constructive outlet for feelings, improves conflict resolution skills, enables people to let go of old resentments, develops mutual respect and understanding, and creates a sense of unity among the members.