by Kevin Wiebe
Things were going just fine, or so you thought. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but what is? Then out of nowhere what you thought was going well just turned out to have been naive optimism, and now you get to be the next person to take your turn going for a ride on the conflict carousel. You don’t know what to do and you could use some advice, but you truly love the people you are in conflict with and don’t want to be spreading gossip about them. And, yet, you feel that if there is any hope for things to get better you will need to talk to someone. So, what do you do? How do you involve someone without becoming a gossip?
If this describes you then there is good news: far too often people don’t give a second thought to whether or not they are actually getting help or just spreading malicious gossip. So, if you want to get help in such situations, but don’t want to spread gossip, that is a better starting point than most.
When there is conflict between Person A (let’s call him Adam) and Person B (let’s call him Ben), it is very natural for each of them to feel the need to talk to a third person about this. Conflict management studies refers to this other person as Person C (let’s call him Charlie), and this process of seeking outside support is referred to as Triangulation. So, in this conflict between Adam and Ben, for the sake of argument let’s say that Adam goes to Charlie to talk about it.
What happens next? Well, Charlie may take Adam’s side, get involved, and also be in conflict with Ben. Or Charlie may agree with Ben and then Adam feels betrayed by Charlie and is now in conflict with both. Or perhaps Charlie helps Adam see the error of his ways and helps him to reconcile with Ben. Or perhaps Charlie does nothing but talk to others about the newest juicy gossip about the issues between Ben and Adam. Charlie may even refuse to get involved, which can be a very respectable course of action at times.
While it is important that the person you speak to have a healthy relationship with you that will hold you in an unconditional positive regard, they should also be someone who isn’t afraid to help you see the errors of your own ways and help you view your “enemy” as someone also made in the image of God. Do not bring the matter to someone who is prone to gossip, but who you know to be trustworthy.
Furthermore, you should be careful about your expectations. Unless you are getting a trained mediator involved, don’t expect them to go to the person you are having trouble with. You will need someone to talk things through with, to be honest with, and to care for you through the difficult process. Find someone who cares about making peace, not just faking peace, and who is bold enough to hold up a mirror to you to gently show you your own part in this problem.
Please note: While this advice is healthy and applicable to normal conflict, it is very harmful when applied to situations of abuse. Abuse is not conflict; it is criminal.