Reflection—Solving Disagreements Agreeably

by Fr. Don Thomas

Relationships can indeed be strong or fragile. Can't people disagree and still be friends? In our homes, our churches, our schools, our government and in our society in general, it is impossible to overlook the anger, the hatred and the divis­ion that affects the lives of millions of people.

Undoubtedly, there is no dearth of opinions as to how we can solve this problem, and I would like to propose mine. I have seen it serve as a valuable tool in saving many relationships. Tensions arising from divorce threats, expulsion of students from school or players from a team, arguments between bosses and employees, religious superiors and their subjects and other disagreements between husbands, wives or really good friends: in all of these situations this plan can succeed and is very practical. To say the least, it is definitely worth a try. I say that with genuine confidence from personal experience.

It is desirable to have a third person present who can serve as a facilitator, a time-keeper or a referee, whatever you want to call him or her. When the two individuals or two groups show up, it is important to make them feel comfortable and welcome. Then is the time to state some ground-rules or conditions that must be respected and followed. This can be done in an almost semi-humorous manner, pointing out, for example, that we all cannot talk at the same time. Listening is vital in this setting and there cannot be any interruptions tolerated. That is why a pad and pencil is given to each, allowing them to jot down any word or idea that they do not agree with. Then, when the other talks, no interruption from the other side, and notes .from the pad will enable the second person to review ideas they wanted to challenge or correct. Each person will have opportunities to speak again, and listen again.

At a reasonable time, the third party steps in and concludes the "sharing" with important words of wisdom. Thanking both parties for coming in, he commends them but points out that hardly ever is a problem solved in one session. Let them know that this is probably the first time in months or years that they really listened to each other. All other efforts were characterized with angry outbursts, yelling and screaming and both talking at the same time and no one understanding what the other person said. At this time, the third person says that he or she would suggest a future session but that decision would be up to them. He points out that he does not pretend to be a "miracle worker" but that this was a good beginning and that is all it was—a very good start. He lets them know how proud he is of both of them and that their marriage, their family, their job or their relationship is definitely worth saving, and he lets them know that he is willing to put in the time if they are. To come in again or not to come in again has to be their decision. Either decision will be respected and we all move on with our lives.

I say to my friend: "Hey, Jim, when you have some free time, I wonder if I could talk to you for about ten minutes. Something is bothering me. I know I would feel better if I could get a chance to talk to you. Jim, I am going to ask you to let me talk and please do not interrupt me. Then if you want to talk, I promise you that I will sit there and listen to you—really listen to you and I promise you that I will not inter­rupt you either, and you can take all the time you want to. We can each have a note pad handy to jot down "key ideas" while still concentrating on "listening".


The End

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