IT componentry, bike parts and clothing. All are examples of online purchases bought from the comfort of your own home and destined to arrive seamlessly at your door. Except that this time I decided to push the envelope. This time I decided to buy a letterbox online. Not just any old bog standard letterbox; a concrete letterbox weighing 104kg. I should have read the warning signs when the freight company rang to ask whether it was possible to drive their flatbed truck up our narrow, suburban street. Of course, it turned to custard. The anticipated letterbox arrived, badly damaged.
Not to be deterred, I rang and reported the damage. I expected to hear “Of course, we’ll send a replacement right away.” I was declined. I was angry. Battle lines were drawn.
So, what happened? I went on holiday. It was a wonderful holiday. Swimming, scuba diving, bike riding, cocktails. I forgot that home existed, but when I eventually returned, the first thing that greeted me was the forlorn letterbox sitting on the front lawn. It was a reminder, no a representation, of coming back to face reality.
Lesson One: Avoiding conflict doesn’t make it go away.
I thought of cutting my losses. I told myself that I could fix the damage and that it wouldn’t look so bad. I told others of my plight in an attempt to justify my position. I spoke of my sense of injustice and frustration. It clarified my position, but it didn’t help to resolve the issue. Instead, I became aware of other things that weren’t going well: a disagreement with a friend; a broken door that wasn’t fixed. I counted 5. Usually a positive person, I started getting grumbly and discontent. I wanted to go back on holiday.
Lesson Two: Conflict begets conflict
I needed to get a grip. Knowing that meditation helps, I decided to resume the practice that had long gone out of habit. ‘I must focus on my breathing, I must focus on my breathing, I must focus on my breathing.’ The result? Emergency meditation just doesn’t work. Fortunately, vigorous exercise does.
Lesson Three: Resilience depends on a regular practice of meditation, exercise, and/or mindfulness.
This was the point that things started to go very wrong. I should have prepared my strategy towards resolving the conflict. I should have identified the values and standards that had been challenged and examined the underlying issues.
Instead, I picked up the phone.
I got the outcome I wanted, but I felt bad.
Lesson Four: Reflect and learn to do better next time
And then I remembered the 5 conflict management styles.
I have choices about how to manage the conflict. I could choose an outcome of harmony, effectiveness or both. For example, I could preserve the relationship and choose to either avoid the conflict; or to accommodate by choosing a quick ending that restored harmony. In other words, I could just say “fine, OK.” But that wasn’t going to happen in this case (“you’re so easy-going,” said nobody to me ever).
Alternatively, I could choose to compete to get the result I wanted; making no concessions along the way. Or, I could choose to compromise – somewhere in between harmony and effectiveness, to negotiate a deal that neither of us was entirely happy about, but we could both live with. For example, they could send me a new letterbox and I could pay the freight.
The ultimate conflict resolution style would be to collaborate: listening to each other to understand each other’s concerns, resolve the conflict and make a commitment to the decision. In other words, both harmony and effectiveness are satisfied and nirvana is attained.
Lesson Five: You have a choice on how you respond to conflict.
I had been very assertive, some would say dominant, in my need to get a replacement letterbox. In the process, I had made my needs a priority and shamed the supplier for their customer service. That’s not a platform for collaboration.
Each of the 5 styles has their place. Collaboration is the gold standard and true collaboration is rare. It takes patience, understanding, a real desire to let go of fixed beliefs and consideration of alternative possibilities. It takes an understanding of your own self-power, knowing and understanding yourself, and reaching for that power in others.
By the way, the new letterbox looks great.