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Unresolved Conflict

Linda M. Clement
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 5, October-November 1999, p. 116

A difficult situation occurred at our last Series Meeting. The children were left unsupervised in the next room. One small boy, out of control, was playing dangerously; another child had her arm broken. This is every Leader's nightmare situation.

Some of the emotions that may be displayed following this scenario are: guilt, shame, rage, frustration, sadness, anxiety, hostility, fear, vulnerability, humiliation, failure, hopelessness, powerlessness, and depression. Also during this time, the following may be seen: labeling, excluding, denial, intolerance, avoidance, gossiping, uncooperativeness, taking sides, seeking corroboration, running away, refusal to discuss or deal with it, sweeping it under the carpet.

Probably the most damaging to everyone is when sides are drawn. "We are no longer letting her know where the meetings are." "If she is there, we are all going to walk out," etc. If this group determines not to deal with the problem, there will be bad feelings kept alive for years, possibly resulting in blaming LLL.

Another problem occurs when an ultimatum is issued. An ultimatum is a power tool, with much potential for damage. There is only one way an ultimatum will ever really work: when the declarer has all the power. This is very rarely the case in any aspect of life and especially in voluntary relationships, like friendships and LLL. If one mother says, "it shall be thus, or I shall leave," she runs the very real risk of witnessing a group sigh of relief and an invitation to find the door. This is not a pleasant experience, to say the least!

Another problem with an ultimatum is what it does to relationships. Declaring that you have no intention of cooperating toward a mutually acceptable resolution suggests three things: this relationship is not valuable to you, you believe you are in control of these people, and you would rather be right than happy.

So, some innocent young boy, much in need of supervision, has gone overboard and actually seriously injured another child. Overreacting to this could certainly make this little boy believe he is malicious, even if that never was his intent at the time; adults are able to rewrite history for children's memories.

Also unhelpful is typecasting this child and his family as "those people" who "do things like that." All people behave inappropriately from time to time, often inadvertently. Pointing out the inappropriateness of the action is all that is needed. And supervising children is always a good idea - if no one is there to say "that is not okay," how would he ever find out in time to avoid the injury? All of this can be applied equally to biters, to children who figure out that being naked creates a reaction, and any other kind of dangerous or inappropriate play.

The stress of unresolved conflicts and unhealed wounds in a Group destroys our enthusiasm, our cooperation, and our compassion. This kind of stress kills applicancy rates, membership renewal rates. Group attendance, and sometimes entire Groups. The fallout from this kind of stress affects the energy and enthusiasm of local, District, and even Area Leaders.

How can a situation like this be handled? Look into taking the Human Relations Enrichment module on Conflict Resolution. The methods are straightforward and concrete, as well as being very effective. Here is the basic model, with some possible words for this situation:

The Problem (without values or emotions) I feel The Concrete Results (to me, to the Group/LLL)
When children are left unsupervised I fear this could happen again.
When I see this animosity between members I fear LLL's image and credibility suffers.
When a child is labeled I get angry because it contradicts LLL's atmosphere of acceptance.

If the others won't deal with it, then what do you do? It is convenient having a communication technique, but what if you can't get through? How do you encourage these women to communicate? Without ever suggesting that you are a carrier for messages between the encampments, speak to each mother: Leaders, helpers, and Group members in turn. Determine a date and time when all interested women can get together without too much difficulty - use the Evaluation Meeting if you can (it is certainly what those meetings are for). Let each woman know what you intend to do: clear this up. Let each woman know why it needs to be cleared up (the Conflict Resolution model is useful here), and that it will be cleared up permanently. Assure each that you believe it can be sorted out to everyone's satisfaction and that no one will be asked to compromise.

This is possible, and only one thing is needed: the commitment of each person to overcome this problem. It begins with the definition of the problem. As it stands, the problem is not "What happened then?" That is history and reality. Problems, by definition, have solutions and neither history nor reality can be solved. The problem is what is happening to the Group now.

Expect defensiveness. Expect justifications. Expect hostility. Expect resolution. These are La Leche League women: intelligent, compassionate, caring. We can expect the best from them. I should mention that one of the other things you might expect is outright refusal. No mediation is ever guaranteed to work 100% and some people do prefer to be right instead of happy.

However, keep it positive. Keep in mind what the goal is. Keep the focus on the reality of La Leche League's image, the attitude of respect and acceptance, and the need to avoid a recurrence.

Consider reading People Skills before the meeting. Peruse your local library or bookstore for some of the win/win negotiation books. Consider bringing an HRE instructor or your DA/DC to the meeting if you fear you will be unable to remain objective.

Above all, do something. Entire communities have been rent asunder by problems like this. Do not stand by, a horrified onlooker, when you may be the only person thinking clearly enough and dispassionately enough to do anything to put this right.

La Leche League works to maintain a high level of acceptance. We each know our own families best, and no one can effectively make our decisions for us. With our families first, we need to ensure the safety and well-being of our children before, not after, we support mothers. We need to take care of ourselves to do any of it.

Taking care of ourselves includes building and maintaining relationships with others, and doing what we need to do to resolve problems as they arise. Not ignore them, not run from them, and not suffer needlessly from them. Resolve them. Dissipate their energy. One problem like this can take years to dissipate on its own - or one afternoon, with attention.

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