This quote gave me a smile because I often hear situations from clients in my conflict management coaching practice about interactions that happened long ago with the person they are currently embroiled with in a dispute. They can easily describe the details as though it happened yesterday. This is often while saying that these matters had been resolved. For instance, clients might use this expression – ‘buried the hatchet’ – to indicate the previous dispute is over and yet, the same feelings seem to prevail. It sounds as though that hatchet didn’t really get buried!
In some research I did a few years ago, I found that the initial altercation or even a set of circumstances that started tension between many people can begin a trajectory that escalates over time (even if no external conflict occurs). That is, once irritated about certain behaviours, words or attitudes, we often tend to continue to react to similar or even different triggers with that person and build on our annoyances until they turn into disdain.
At these times, it is evident that attributions about the person’s motives often become increasingly negative such that they have little chance of redeeming themselves. At some point we may engage in a discussion in which our (mutual) feelings are shared, and the issues are seemingly resolved. But it happens for many that things aren’t fully resolved, and the hatchet is not always buried.
If you can think of a situation about which the hatchet has not been yet buried, this set of questions might be helpful to reflect on:
- What is that situation about which the hatchet is not yet buried?
- What is the hatchet for you?
- What more specifically makes that unresolved for you?
- What are you not letting go of or forgiving?
- What are you gaining by not burying the hatchet? What are you losing?
- What would things be like if you were able to bury the hatchet?
- What could the other person say or do that might help you facilitate the burying of the hatchet? What might keep them from saying or doing that?
- What might the hatchet be for the other person?
- What might you do to facilitate burying of the hatchet for that person?
- What keeps you from doing that (your answer to the previous question)?
- What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
- What insights do you have?