The Benefits of Confrontation
Turlock CA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 3, June-July 2004, p. 57.
Conflict between co-Leaders is inevitable. Yes, we have our common goal of helping women with their breastfeeding and mothering needs. But look at all the differences: we sometimes come from radically different walks of life and we all have unique priorities for the Group, varied amounts of free time, and different levels of energy and commitment. Furthermore, we have strong personalities. Of course there is going to be conflict!
Conflict and confrontation aren’t bad. In fact, I wish I had had more conflict with one of my former co-Leaders. Actually, we needed more confrontation, but conflict would have been a good first step.
There was often subtle, underlying tension at our Leader Meetings. It was so subtle that I could easily convince myself that I was misreading the situation. I wished for a couple of years that she would clarify the issue for herself and then confront the rest of the Leaders (or me, if I was the troublesome one). Like most people, she preferred to avoid conflict. She succeeded in avoiding conflict, but never managed to get her needs met. We co-Leaders never were given the chance to change our behavior or compromise, because we never heard what the problem was.
She has retired now and the rest of us have been denied a chance to grow.
Maybe I could have planned a series of Communication Skills (CS) sessions to be held at her house. Taking the third session together would have given us a common set of skills and the inspiration to see confrontation as a resolution. Communication Skills 3, also called “Developing Skills For Harmony,” has shown me how a little conflict can actually be healthy for a Group.
I have two co-Leaders who are very good at confrontation. Taking CS 3 and other communication courses have augmented their natural abilities. They know that addressing rather than suppressing conflict opens the lines of communication and that talking to each other instead of about each other makes us a team. Their courage makes the process almost painless.
I think the key to relatively painless confrontation is to remember the phrase “early and often.” Confront as early as possible so that it doesn’t escalate to a really big deal and as often as necessary. Practice is the key. Just as with breastfeeding and bicycle riding, you can read about it all you want, but the real learning starts with practice.
The first lesson in CS 3 helps us learn to determine who “owns” a particular problem. We’re taught to ask, “Who is bugged?” Now I know who was bugged—I’m still fretting, aren’t I! Then an “I” message is formed: “When ____ I feel ____ because ____.” The trick is to keep soul-searching until the blanks are filled in. Like this: “When I sense tension in the room and know from rumors that you are unhappy with something about me, I feel helpless because I don’t know how to work on the problem.” Sometimes it’s tricky to keep blame and accusation out of the “I” message.
I have taken or conducted CS 3 sessions at least four times, so far! I’m gradually learning to apply the skills to my everyday life. As I mentioned above, I waited a couple of years for that co-Leader to confront me. Now that she is no longer a Leader, I realize that the problem was ours, not just hers.
Editor’s note: The Communications Skills Department (CSD) program varies from Division to Division and between Affiliates. Many revisions have taken place in recent years. Please contact the CSD instructor/facilitator in your area to find out what is being offered.
This article originally
appeared in the Winter 2001 issue of Grapevine, the Area Leaders’
Letter for LLL of Northern California/Hawaii, USA. Pam Young has been
a Leader since 1991. She and husband, Andy, have four children: Patrick
(15), Katie (13), Erin (10), and Kerry (5). She is the Communications
Skills Coordinator for Northern California and Hawaii, USA, and leads
with a Group in Turlock, California. Nan Vollette is the Contributing
Editor for the “Helping Mothers” column.