The holidays are supposed to be a wonderful time of gathering with loved ones. Unfortunately, they also glaringly highlight all the lovely family dynamics you try to ignore. I recently had a family experience I didn’t handle well. As several of us were sitting in my living room talking, one of my male relatives shared an extremely misogynistic video with another male relative. The volume on his phone was loud enough for the entire room to hear. My young adult daughter and my 17-year-old son were present as well. I “kindly” asked through gritted teeth that the video be turned off. This relative said, “What? I thought it was funny.” At that point, I snapped out “Turn it off now!” About an hour after he left, I started raging about how disrespectful he was. I was in full judgment mode.
I’ve been engaging in conflict resolution work for most of my 20 plus-year career. It’s a heck of a lot easier to be the mediator than it is to be a participant. It’s been awhile since a situation has riled me up as much as this, so it brought home the raw reality of how hard conflict and repairing broken relationships can be.
As I was raging, my wise-beyond-her-years daughter started asking me really good questions to help me slow down and process what I was experiencing. Here’s where I realized I got stuck:
- I didn’t do a good job of taking care of myself – Having emotions is human. But rather than acknowledging the fact that I had a strong emotional reaction and doing something productive to discharge it and recover, I ranted and raved to anyone who would listen.
- I focused my emotions on bashing him as a person. There was a sense of moral superiority. “I am good and he is bad.” This dualistic thinking leaves no room to heal the relational fracture. I didn’t see his playing the video as an inappropriate behavior or poor choice. HE (as a human being) was wrong, which caused me to become disgusted with him.
- I chose to assume the worst. Because my focus turned to him as a person instead of the behavior, I created a story about why he did this that assumed mal-intent. I assumed he knew better and chose to do it anyway. I assumed he didn’t care if it upset me. I assumed he didn’t care that it could offend my daughter or cause my son to think such behavior in men is ok.
Conflict occurs no matter the context. We’re all different; different backgrounds, different experiences, different thoughts and different feelings. These variances cause clashes, which directly impact relationships. As leaders, we can choose to ignore these clashes – leaving a wake of broken relationships in our lives or the lives of our teams – or we can choose the hard work of leaning in to try to seek restoration.
As for me, I want restoration. It’s not easy and it’s not quick, but here are the steps I’m choosing in order to lean in.
- Step outside the moral superiority by becoming humble. There’s a certainty with superiority that leaves no room for reconciliation. I had to acknowledge my own imperfection. There are plenty of things I do that hurt others. I hope to be forgiven in those situations, so I need to be open to offering forgiveness.
- Acknowledge the value of the person. Each person is valuable. And yet, each person is broken. Rather than assume my relative is a horrible human being because of his poor choice, I need to recognize he’s just as broken and messed up as I am. This softens my heart to begin being curious. Curiosity ushers in the ability to have a dialog and determine intentions rather than assumptions.
- Be transparent about my needs. The two steps above prepare me for a hard conversation. They slow me down and soften the sharp edges of my emotion. I want to be willing to hear his perspective on what happened and what he needs from me. And I need to courageously share why this situation didn’t work for me and what I need from him so that our relationship can heal.
Is any of this easy? Of course not! It has to do with people and people are messy. But I believe they’re worth it. When people are in right relationship, trust flourishes and just about anything is possible. My relative and I stubbed our toes; the fabric of our lifelong relationship doesn’t have to be torn. So I choose to have the hard conversation. I choose to listen. I choose to risk vulnerability and speak what’s true for me.