The future conflicts we can’t predict, the ones that come out of the sky and surprises us, are the easiest to prepare for. But we have to work at it.
Interpersonal conflicts come from both places: the places we can predict (that family member who’s “always been a problem,” or that co-worker who “just doesn’t get it…and never has”) and the places we can’t predict (“he was so normal,” or “she never said anything about it before”).
We don’t prepare for the unpredictable for two, major reasons:
It will never happen to me: Actually in the realm of all mathematical, probabilistic calculations, the likelihood that someone getting into a conflict with you whom you did not expect to is pretty high.
I’m already prepared in case it happens: Well, think about the last unpredictable event (for you) that happened? How did you respond to a flat tire in the middle of road? A screaming adult? A disappointed boss or co-worker who had never said anything previously?
We respond with the patterns comfortable to us, to conflicts and stimulus that are unpredictable, because we don’t think about, plan for, or even consider the fact that the unpredictable might actually happen.
This is why we’re always surprised by future outcomes, conflicts and situations, even as we look for patterns in the past, and assign blame or credit, in order to make order, out of the chaos that unpredictability represents.
There are a few ways out of this, none of them comfortable:
- Think about future conflicts “tabula rasa”: Begin by thinking about conflicts that could arise with a blank slate, or tabula rasa. Think of the future—and conflicts that could arise in it—as unexplored territory.
- Do not look to the past for solutions: The past is exactly that, the past. And it’s not a good predictor of future behavior, actions or choices. The past is merely history. Or, perhaps nostalgia. And sometimes nostalgia can be poison.
- Be open to possibility: This one is really hard if people are not comfortable with change and require stability and predictability—or at least the story of stability and predictability—in order to go about their day. Being open to the possibility for conflict opens the doors to being creative in your reactions, and responses to it.
- Creativity is the key: Many people struggle with creative ways to explore, challenge and respond to conflict prone situations. This is why the standard responses to receiving a divorce decree is to just accept it and get a lawyer. However, many conflict scenarios—both interpersonal and intrapersonal—can be resolved, accommodated, or even avoided, in a myriad of creative ways. And, depending upon the type of response you’d like to encourage in the other party, responding creatively is better than using past patterns of behavioral responses—and expecting a different result.
Employing some, or all, of these strategies leads to creating systems in families, churches and civic organizations that can be antifragile, rather than collapsing due to fragility, or overcompensating due to a robustness of robustness.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org