In an average day, I encounter conflict pretty regularly. Conflict, as in “an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, and interests.” My opinion, for example, is that the students in my third period class should NOT use their cell phones during my recent lesson introducing The Crucible. Their opinion, on the other hand, is that they should. Thus, an incompatibility. But I rarely allow my temper to flare in those moments; I don’t escalate arguments with kids. I’ve learned that with high school students, a teacher shouldn’t ever cop an attitude that she wouldn’t want a kid to respond with. So I calmly ask them to put their phones away, and while they may grumble, they *mostly* do as I say.
This is a pretty significant departure from how I responded to conflict when I was younger. In those days, my parents would demand that I do something, and I would storm off, my vision blurring a little on the edges until I was out of earshot, and I would explode, picking up some laundry and throwing it against the wall. I was never dumb enough to actually throw something that could cause damage. Or I would scream into a pillow. Lord, I got so mad. The memories of those moments are clear as day… I see the laundry area of the house I grew up in in Alexandria, I see the wooden stairs, I see the linoleum floors, but I don’t remember what made me so mad. How is that? I certainly had a lot of anger, but I always knew better than to explode at my parents.
But the conflict in my life is a much bigger deal now. If I have conflict in my classroom, I make a hostile work environment for myself and my students. I have to see them too often for that. Plus, I really do love my job, and I wouldn’t want to HATE going there. If I have conflict with Cari, as I often do because she’s sassy and I’m surly, I try to control my temper. Sometimes I succeed, but other times, I fail miserably. I’ve responded to her telling me “No” with ugliness I’m not proud of. But I try to apologize if I’ve done that, mostly so she knows that I love her even when I’m not being loving. If I have conflict in my marriage, I feel like a piece of my life is askew. I can’t stand to be in conflict with Stu for long. That means I apologize a lot sooner than I would like to because I know someone has to make the first move, and Stu has the most forgiving wife on the planet. Stu would probably disagree. While I’m getting my emotions out, I can be panicked, loud, irrational, even cruel. He will shut down and refuse to talk to me. We go to our separate corners, and calm down. I often extend the olive branch to start up the conversation again, this time more peacefully. I only mind a little that I’m often the first one to budge. Winning an argument is a whole lot less important than being on good terms with my best friend.
How do you approach conflict? Do you blow up? Do you shut down? Are you an eye roller? Do you use the H
This post is in response to the Daily Post.