Conflict happens all the time. Family members evade it if only to maintain peace at home and friends avoid it to keep friendships. Some situations however, demand that conflict be addressed. On what grounds can we welcome conflict? How do we handle conflict so that it becomes an instrument for learning and blessing? In the seminar on Transforming Conflict into Opportunity, held at IGSL on October 21-22, 2016, Dr. John Ng presented principles on how to handle conflict.
It was liberating to learn from the seminar that conflict is natural. It is also neutral. The absence of conflict is not necessarily a healthy sign. Most conflicts are irresolvable. That being so, Ng presented the types of conflicts and the usual reasons that gives rise to conflict: (1) disagreements overs facts; (2) unequal power relationship, processes, or physical factors; (3) competing interests; (4) interactional dynamics and behaviors of the disputants; as well as (5) differing values and belief systems. Once a conciliator is able to identify the type of conflict, there is a greater chance that the issue will be dealt with in the shortest time.
Conflicts have a way of their own, but conflict conciliators must intervene so that these do not escalate where disputants begin to tread on precarious paths and thus bring irreparable damages to relationships. When intervening in a conflict, it is important to create the right climate. First, we need to remind disputants of the vision and shared values of the organization. This has some unifying effect and may reveal that the issue raised in is not worth the fight and time expended. Second, positive moments in relationship should be built. Ng emphasized that, “the key to effective communication is relationship.” He suggested the application of the 5:1 Ratio Principle, explaining its meaning that for every negative comment, five positive comments should be given. Then third, there is the need to learn through conflicts and recover from them as every conflict is a learning experience.
Ng shared what he called the Meta Eight Golden Rules in handling conflict: (1) Avoid personal attack. (2) Take responsibility. (3) Listen actively. (4) Focus on issues. (5) Choose your fight. (6) One issue at a time. (7) Time your fight. (8) Realign to supra-ordinate goals. The same principles are listed in his book, Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Managing Conflict @ Work and Home.
One other principle that Ng introduced was the concept of bidding. A fundamental unit in human relations is the desire to make connections with others. The responses to this can be positive (turning toward), negative (turning away), and indifference (tuning inward). To be able to connect, one has to do several biddings. Happily married couples do more happy biddings of about 100 times within an hour. On the one hand, failure to bid and indifference or a negative response to biddings will result in loneliness, emptiness and conflicts that tend to escalate. On the other hand, a positive response to biddings results in greater connectivity and joy.
Ng concluded by pointing out that God is the Kintsugi master. Kintsugi is a Japanese term for one who repairs broken potteries and makes these look better. The living God as Kintsugi helps a person go through self-recovery, relational recovery, and family recovery.
As Ng’s approach is Asian, the workshop was particularly relevant, addressing such factors as shame face and power distance, which usually contribute in the escalation of conflict. It is also relevant to the context of IGSL as at the present time the school is going through a period of leadership transition. The seminar gave new hope to those who attended it in that there is a way to handle conflict which need not end in the breakdown of families or the severance of friendships.