Conflict doesn’t necessarily mean something fundamental has shifted in your business or personal relationship. It’s possible the relationship is as sound and strong as it ever was. It’s just hard to see that when the conflict is crowding out your wider view.
I was reminded of this recently in an experience with a certain company whose services I use to manage a small digital aspect of my conflict resolution business. I’ve been using the company for years and have felt consistently well served. When I run across others looking for a service like theirs, I recommend the company.
A couple of months ago the company experienced an intermittent outage due to a DDoS attack. While trying to get information about what was going on and why their service was out, I discovered I could subscribe to receive text alerts whenever the company creates or updates an “incident” which could have an impact on their service. I signed right up.
Almost immediately my relationship with the company changed. Within a couple of weeks, I went from a happy customer to a very concerned one. They went from being a reliable, well-run company to an unreliable, problem-filled one. Or so it seemed.
You see, hardly a day went by when I didn’t receive an incident alert text. “Investigating unscheduled site interruption,” they’d text. Sometimes they’d send another indicating they still didn’t know what was going on. Eventually they’d text, “Identified,” or “Resolved.” On some days, multiples of these texts beeped on my phone. I was shocked by how frequently they were experiencing problems now. I found myself wondering what had changed to make them go so downhill.
Then I realized what had changed about the company: Nothing. Only my awareness had changed. In an effort to be transparent and provide excellent customer communication, the company had inadvertently come to appear as riddled with technological problems. While most of those problems had little to no impact on me, once I knew about them, I began to focus on them and unfairly ignore all the good I still receive from the company.
This happens in conflict in an ongoing business and personal relationship, too. Something happens. A problem is uncovered, perhaps a flaw in the other person. We noticed that flaw or problem now each time there’s tension. The flaw seems to get more and more obvious. Its existence gets more frustrating for us. We wonder how it is that we didn’t notice it before or what is going on for them that they seem to be getting worse. We forget that, before we started focusing primarily on the problem, our relationship with them was rich and multi-faceted.
The problem or flaw is just one part but we let its presence obscure the fuller picture of the relationship.