Tomorrow evening I am due to speak to this subject at my local church. As I researched and pondered on this area I came to see something of just how important this business of being able to engage in reconciliation is to us all. For me, my Christian spirituality is profoundly rooted in relationships, anyway; both with God and with others around me. So I now regard the business of reconciliation as a key element in my discipleship.
However, if you find such spiritual sentiments absurd or even repugnant, bear with me one moment. I am persuaded that what we call in business ‘conflict resolution’ is, in fact, a key skill in that meta-competence of leadership.
So often, I have seen the essential litmus test of a leader is how they respond when faced with a conflict. What they do next defines a leader. People who are no more than positional leaders (that is, in a position of authority but necessarily exercising a competence as a leader) are either likely to ignore the problem (denial), deal with it aggressively (anger) or engage in some kind of blame game (transference). Whereas those who show true leadership always head towards the relational rift in a way that is exemplary and reinforces trust in the character of the leader themselves.
In my research for this message, I came across a really helpful set of steps for a generic reconciliation process from the Reconciliation Institute. This process appears to have developed out of years of experience conducting the process between individuals as well as between communities in conflict with other communities. I like the way it first addresses the needs, values and feelings of ourselves before proceeding to try and understand those of the other party.
Regarding feelings, these are the emotions that put heat into any conflict, and denied feeling by the other party - or any attempt to dismiss them - only fuels that heat. Feelings need to be described and heard. They are as to be treated as tangible as facts in any reconciliation that is to be more than superficial.
Sadly, the mindset of too many in business ignores the dimension of others’ feelings, or regards such indulgence as a weakness. ‘The only things that matter are the facts,’ they say.
Facts matter too. Step #2 of the process_of_reconciliation recognises that it is often the case that a party with a grievance (perhaps because of misunderstood or ignored feelings!) will damn outright the other party. In Christian forgiveness we are taught only to ask for forgiveness and to release forgiveness for things specifically done. We do not forgive people for who they are, but specifically for what they have done. This is important. Otherwise we continue in the sort of conflict that so demonises our enemy that we regard them as less than human. This cannot lead to reconciliation. It’s easier to write off or kill our enemy if we regard them as other than human.
I’m struck by how much the whole process structure also looks very much like a negotiation. But it is a negotiation of sorts. We are looking for a win-win: I win and you win. That, along with the sometimes mutual forgiveness is the bedrock of lasting reconciliation.
What I will be saying tomorrow night is that:
- reconciliation is scary: we don’t know how it will turn out, so it requires courage (a leadership attribute).
- Reconciliation is also painful; and true leaders sometimes require all their courage and strength of character to engage in it.
- But the pay-off is tremendous: reconciliation is transcendent; it leaves all parties involved more fully human.
Today reconciliation might begin when a soldier gives a sweet to a boy in Fallujah, but it is only complete when both go through a process. That may take years. But isn’t it worth it?
[First published in my Bloglines Business Log.]