While talking to a colleague about conflict earlier this week, I had a vivid memory of a dilemma my mother once talked about. She was a very capable woman, working for the same company for over 40 years, rising from accounts clerk to Director while raising my brother and me as a single parent.
When she retired, she joined various local groups and enjoyed outings and the occasional holiday with her new friends. The problem she faced was that people always looked to her to organise things – after all, this was something she was very good at. What she would have loved however was for someone else to take charge more often, so she could enjoy the trip without the responsibility of sorting out travel arrangements and so on. On the very rare occasion this happened, she found the lack of basic organisational skills intensely frustrating.
It’s not exactly an unusual dilemma: do you continue to do something knowing it’ll be done to your satisfaction, but resent having to do it; or do you deliberately sit back and watch others make what you consider to be a right hash of things?
So why did this come to mind when discussing conflict?
My colleague was testing out a new tool looking at how different personality types behave during conflict. According to the profile, my positive tendencies include showing flexibility, awareness of other people’s feelings and the ability to listen to opposing points of view. What I need to watch out for is giving in to please others and avoid tension.
The profile went on to suggest how I might adapt my behaviour when in conflict with someone of a different personality type. And this was where my mother’s dilemma sprang to mind. OK, I’m good at being flexible and seeing other people’s perspectives, but once in a while, it would be bloody fantastic if some of these other people took the trouble to show an interest in my perspective instead of me having to make myself heard over their more pushy, self-interested approach.
But of course, that’s just not going to happen. Many years ago I bought a book on how to manage a bad boss. I was hugely disappointed that it didn’t provide clear instructions to help me instantly transform the other person; it was all about how I needed to change my own behaviour. The message was about taking responsibility and playing the long game – change what I do now, and eventually this may influence how others behaviour.
In the meantime, forgive me (and my mother) for having the occasional rant; we’re only human.