At work on Monday, a mild conflict arose between myself and the representative of a group I’m working on a project with. This group has been particular about how this project is carried out, more so than the other 13 groups I’ve worked with this year. They asked us to do something we really didn’t want to do and there was a lengthy detour while we had several meetings about it. In the end, we had to agree to do what they wanted. Immediately after the meeting where this became clear, I sent a note saying we would be delighted to take care of it, and then I forwarded this note to one of my own co-workers, saying I thought I’d better send that gracious message while the afterglow of reaching an agreement was still upon me. She complimented my good thinking.
A couple of days before the project was scheduled to conclude, lo and behold, the representative decided that there was yet another thing they needed changed in a system that is used by many people beyond this group. I basically said we were absolutely not going to do it, and he basically said he’d see what his manager had to say about that, which is how the former issue began to escalate, too.
To digress semi-briefly, my chaplaincy class has a reading list consisting of 19 books, plus tons of online readings. I ordered every book right away, but there was one I couldn’t get at first: Professional Spiritual & Pastoral Care: A Practical Clergy and Chaplain's Handbook, edited by Rabbi Stephen B. Roberts, MBA, MHL, BCJC. Huh! Didn’t notice the MBA until just now. BCJC is Board Certified Jewish Chaplain. I have no idea what MHL is. To the non-religious eyes, looks boring, right? Not least because of all those credentials. Amazon listed this book—for $50—but said it was back-ordered. Weeks passed, and I finally canceled the order and ordered it from ChristianBook.com—for $35—but it was also back-ordered there.
I felt a little self-conscious about my neighbors maybe seeing a box from ChristianBook waiting for me in the lobby, like I should run around and tell them all, “I’m not a Christian!”
It finally arrived the day of my class in November, and it is actually an excellent book, not extremely well-written, but chock full of interesting advice for the aspiring chaplain. I read an assigned chapter on listening and realized that I was dealing with my co-worker in just the wrong way, in a way guaranteed to increase conflict.
I wrote up some reminders for myself for effective communication at work (and, I suppose, anywhere):
—How can I foster relaxation in this situation or conversation?
—How can I support connectedness?
—How can I nurture a sense of security?
—How can I give the other person as many options as possible, to promote a sense of choice and power?
I thought of several areas where this person could make some choices, and in our next meeting, which was just him and me, I greeted him warmly and asked what he’d like to talk about first, rather than telling him what we’d talk about first. I’d absolutely thought we would end up having to do this other thing he was pushing for, and therefore would have to delay the grand finale of the project, but in the context of our pleasant meeting, with me offering him options every time I possibly could, and after I showed him what his request would entail, he said it would be perfectly fine not to make the change! (I confess I also casually mentioned that another influential group in the company was perfectly fine without this change.) Anyway, that was a satisfying ending to that particular problem.
And then I thought again about my classmate who made the racist remark, realizing it would not be helpful to spend the time until the next class rehearsing offended speeches. My task is to find a way to act in a constructive manner, as at work, and as explicitly elucidated in Rabbi Roberts’ very good book.