Talking Things Out: A Lesson In Conflict Resolution
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Conflict resolution has not been my strong point over the years. I know how to resolve other people’s conflicts, and I have, but doing it in my own life has been rocky. In the past I have mostly cut people off (without warning) or told them to “Fuck off!”
I don’t want to do either anymore.
Recently, I had a meeting with someone that went really well. Going into it I thought the complete opposite was going to happen. Actually, I planned for the complete opposite.
It was cut off time!
Things had been building up over the last few months. I had run-ins with this person that I did not appreciate, and then came a biggy that was it for me: idea theft.
Or so I thought.
After months of not seeing or communicating with the person they sent me an email asking me to participate in a project of theirs. I had already decided that I was not going to work with them and was taking my time to respond to their email in a good way.
The following day I got a large, passive aggressive, insulting email. My fingers wanted to type furiously but my mind knew better. I’ve been involved in email wars over the years; they are taxing and a waste of energy and time. And I’ve really been aware of my time lately: you don’t get time back.
So, I waited to respond.
I calmed myself down, prayed, said affirmations, and mediated on the whole thing.
My response was short. I cleared the air of accusations they had made and I told them I would not respond to the rest of their email. And I suggested a meet in person.
After a few emails we decided to meet in a park and talk things out.
Because of our schedules we had to wait a week and a half to meet.
We had a day, time, and place. But it wasn’t gonna be a fun walk in the park.
Over the week and a half that preceded our talk I read articles on dealing with conflict, thought about teachings I have received up north and from different Indigenous Elders, talked with good friends, and prayed.
I decided that I was going to tell them about 4 issues I had with them, the biggest being the idea theft, and then end it with, “I don’t feel comfortable sharing my ideas with you or working with you or talking to you.”
Sounds like drama but it’s way better than an outright cut off with no explanation or a “Fuck off!”
Before we would talk I planned on suggesting a couple of things:
- Listening and talking respectfully
- No profanity
- Talk all my points and then have them to respond
- Honesty without cruelty
- Inform them that I had talked to people about it without mentioning their name or signifying details
Then came the day.
I was a little nervous.
Not nervous about violence but nervous.
I walked to the park 20 minutes before our meeting time so as to get there early and be comfortable and pray. On my way there I said affirmations to myself with the hopes of practicing them as best as possible:
I said these over and over.
Ten minutes after I got to the park the person came. We greeted one another, engaged in small talk, and collectively decided where to sit.
It was on.
The day was gorgeous and the sun was shining on us. People were jogging, doing yoga, pulling on rubber exercise bands, and playing tennis. The atmosphere was nice but our small part of the park was tense.
Our choice of seating was a 30 year-old green wooden bench with concrete siding. Not many parks have these anymore. It held us up and was comfortable. It also brought a sense of familiarity for both of us as we are around the same age as the bench and have seen such benches for most of our lives. It was like a place of comfort in this tough time.
I proposed my suggestions and they agreed.
Then I apologized for something I had done wrong to them.
Things were off to a good start.
My right leg was tucked under my left as I sat twisted to the right while talking with them. They listened, nodded, stared, and only interrupted once for clarification.
My speech was slow, smooth, and clear. I used “I” statements and spoke honestly without verbally lashing them. After about 10 minutes my part was done.
Then came the smackdown.
“I’m sorry you think I stole your idea but I’ve always done [that type of project] over the years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve touched upon [that subject],” they said.
I had not done my research and I got told in a good way.
Damn, I fucked up! I thought.
Wow. I had been angry for a while with them and I was the one who was wrong.
My other beefs were legit and they apologized. They were sincerely apologetic for the negative email they sent.
They also shared concerns about reaching out to me over the years in different ways and me not reciprocating; one example was SHARING my writing and videos on social networking sites. I explained that to me that isn’t reaching out. Reaching out is done directly via email or phone or in person. They acknowledged that what they viewed as reaching out was their view. We all have different views and ways of communicating. I like the direct form.
I also explained why I was not interested in certain projects offered to me in the past and they understood.
The tension dissipated as we talked more. We flowed into regular chat for a bit and then came back to business.
Honesty was present throughout and not one of us raised our voices or swore. We also shared that we were both nervous. I told them about how this was a first for me in a long time in terms of resolving conflict. They were nice in saying that they didn’t, or wouldn’t, do this with everyone and that they felt I was worth it.
Talks like this are difficult but in this case it was worth it. Like them I won’t do this with everyone. I also feel this is something that should not happen often with the same person; there’s only so many talks you can have; and some people feel they can be abusive and talk it all out only to be abusive again to be followed by another talk and the vicious cycle goes on. No thanks! That’s a justified cut off.
Our talk was such a change from previous encounters I’ve had with people.
“This was healthy,” I said.
“Yeah!” they said.
They asked for a hug and we embraced tightly and amicably.
As they rode off on their bike I felt the sun on me; I felt weightless; I felt close to Creator; I felt I grew.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet for my new VLOG about conflict resolution.