Do you like romantic comedies? When my daughter was a teenager we would watch movies together and I insisted that we see all the “classic” romantic comedies. But about 30 minutes into the plot I would start my usual speech.
“You know, dear, that relationships are not really like this,” I’d say.
“I know, Mom,” my daughter would say.
“Because you don’t just meet a guy on Friday, sleep over on Saturday and then live happily ever after…”
“I know, Mom.”
“Well, it’s just my job as a mother to talk about what is real.”
“I know, Mom.”
You probably recognize that teenage tone of voice, but you also know I’m right. Relationships are not easy. With all the technology aimed at making our lives easy, all the self-help books and talk shows, you’d think we were managing conflict around here with style. In my experience, what is actually easy is to live on the surface of relationships in pseudo peace. What is real is below the surface. Who wants to rock the boat?
Yet if you look around your extended family, your co-workers, or your neighborhood you will find people that think and act very differently, and with whom you interact on a regular basis. Conflict is inevitable. My tendency is to go for the easy relationships and avoid conflict, but there is fear woven into my life when I live like that. Pseudo peace might be found out for what it is–fake! I am not showing up with authenticity, and I am giving the smallest effort possible toward building healthy relationships.
What if we viewed conflict as normal, not a bad thing, but just a part of being alive with other people around. It simply means there is diversity in our office staff, in our Parent Teacher Association, in our yoga class, in our family. How about exploring the differences in each other? How about leveraging these differences toward something beautiful? How about celebrating the work of collaboration?
Well, it’s one thing to want to be authentic and quite another to start a conversation that you’re afraid might be difficult. Here is a little guide that has really helped me get started with the exploring part:
First I share my intention in starting the conversation: “I want to say this because…”
Then I state the observable facts without interpretation: “When I saw or heard…”
Now I add my feeling: “I felt…”
And my interpretation of the facts and feelings: “I thought, or I assumed, or I decided…”
And finally I invite a response: “How do you see this? What do you think about what I’ve said?”
And I totally listen without saying anything.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s real.