Love isn’t often talked about in most workplaces. And when an organization is looking for someone to help them with persistent conflict or antagonistic patterns of interaction between people at work, the need for love isn’t likely to come first to mind.
But truthfully, what I have learned about love and letting go of resentments infuses the work I do to help people understand and resolve conflict. When I first started studying conflict resolution professionally, I learned about the big difference between settlement and true resolution. It is perfectly possible to reach a settlement agreement about money, services, or another issue just with logic, self interest, and a little empathy.
But, when people have ongoing relationships and need to keep interacting and working together, what Is really needed is to change their hearts and minds, so they can find love for themselves and compassion for the struggles of the other.
Then, the conflict isn’t an insurmountable obstacle anymore.
That is the purpose of half the exercises, teachings, and guided visualizations I offer in my classes and in my individual work with clients: I give them a lot of understanding and love for the amazing, imperfect people they are, and, if they are willing, gently direct them to lovingly see their own patterns and their contribution to the conflict. Then, they often are open to a glimpse of the inner logic and feelings of the other person.
Sometimes clients need to see a negative pattern of behavior they have acted out with multiple people which has led to a series of conflicts. Whether with one or many people, they no longer have to see themselves as victims, but instead can begin to change their own thinking and behavior.
The path of love in conflict resolution doesn’t mean you have to like the other person. It doesn’t necessarily even mean you have to keep working with them. But it does mean letting go of resentments and looking at your own assumptions and behavior.
I recently had to grapple with this kind of situation myself with a service organization I’ve been part of. This group has board meetings quarterly to discuss plans, logistics, finances, and any problems. The new facilitator, a volunteer like the rest of us, began to arbitrarily change established procedures to suit her own needs.
She turned the board meeting into an opportunity to criticize and control the behavior of many of us, including one comment pointedly directed at me (though not by name). Several of us members tried to talk to her after the meeting, but she couldn’t hear us. She was sure she knew The Truth, which she expressed with great conviction.
I ended up extremely triggered, hurt, frustrated, and angry, and left before I said something hasty and self righteous myself! I stood beside my open car door in the parking lot for at least 5 minutes, struggling with an overwhelming desire to go back in and “set her straight”, to prove she was wrong and I was right. I wanted to “make” her see her enormous mistakes.
A small still inner voice of love and experience said, “Has anything good ever come from doing that? Have you ever liked the outcomes after many many attempts over the years? Have you ever gotten what you want?” I knew the answer was “no”, but I was seriously tempted nonetheless. I’m glad to report I managed to get myself home instead, and began to use all my spiritual and practical coaching skills on myself.
I reminded myself and my inner child, that I was a good, worthy person who like all humans can make mistakes. I told myself that her judgments were hers only, not the truth of who I was. Then I began to send her love, blessings, and good wishes. As soon as I did that, my intuition suggested that perhaps her life experience had taught her she had no right to ask directly for what she wanted, but must wrap up her needs in rules and judgments. When I realized that possibility, I found tremendous compassion for her.
The compassion and love I found wasn’t enough by itself to resolve the situation, but it certainly helped me have a more peaceful heart. Once I’d let go of my resentments and blame, I could begin to envision a way forward.