Parents warn you that your kids’ will model your behaviour. Every parent has some unfortunate story of hearing or seeing their kids do something that they don’t really want them to do…but alas, they’ve learnt it from their parents when the parents weren’t aware of themselves. It’s kind of a parenting rite of passage.
But the other day, I was delightfully impressed by how this principle can also be positive.
I had a bad day last week and was a bit on edge. Instead of dealing with it, I stupidly bottled it up, until my husband said something with some miniscule potential to create an argument (mainly because he was unaware of my state of mind). Unfortunately, I couldn’t contain the tears. As soon as my 6-year-old daughter saw me, she came running over to give me a hug. If that weren’t sweet enough, she then proceeded to take my hand and lead me to my bedroom. She instructed me gently, to lie down, and I relented because I could see it was important to her to care for me in that moment. She then grabbed a glass of water and put it on my bedside table. As she was walking out, she closed the door and went to her dad and said, “give Mummy some time, Dad”. I was absolutely blown away!
After a few moments I heard her Dad say, “don’t you think Mummy would like a hug?” So, she led her Dad into the room and basically advised us to talk to each other. Whilst she remained impartial (even though I know I’m her favourite!) she instructed us each to apologise and forgive, all whilst staying perfectly sincere and calm.
Now I have definitely never taught her to do this. In fact, I don’t even think it’s come up as a topic of conversation. But she has definitely watched me do this for others: friends, family, church members and even her! So again, she has learnt from me as I have modelled this behaviour.
Other than both of us being so incredibly proud of her compassion, I was just so struck at how my daughter has already learnt something about conflict. Her skill (and let’s be fair, her cuteness) in understanding my need to have some space, attending to my physical needs (i.e. the water) and her temperament in the moment demonstrated at least some comprehension of how to handle a conflict. And I feel pretty hopeful that she has a chance at managing conflict well in the future and having some personal success, considering conflict is probably one of the most guaranteed occurrences in life.
As a society, we underestimate to an almost idiotic degree, the significance of conflict and its management. We forget that we all have learnt primary ways to manage conflict, that can degrade or enhance the quality of our relationships. And here’s the thing: not only are our kids watching how we manage conflict, but so are those we lead. Whether we intimidate, threaten, reason, avoid or suppress, someone is always watching. Furthermore, we are all learning what is acceptable and affirmed in conflicts, in our communities. Particularly in a work environment or a church. Whether we realise it or not, we all have a preference for how we think conflicts should be managed. And we all reward or penalise those around us for their conflict style. Usually the determination to reward or penalise is based on their alignment to our preferred style. So, my question to every person who considers themselves a leader is: if everybody is deducing something about conflict management from our behaviour, what exactly are they learning? Is it good? And is it leading to greater freedom, peace and collaboration for all?
Conflict management specialists believe that all conflict styles are relevant and beneficial at different times, depending on the circumstances. Whilst I am proud of my daughter, her current conflict management style is not always going to be the best option. Sometimes she will need to walk away from a conflict rather than toward it. Sometimes she is going to have to negotiate a win-win. Sometimes she is going to have to be more assertive and hold her ground. My point is merely to say, that wisdom would tell us that learning about conflict management and discerning the times to use different types are of great importance. And teaching the next generation about conflict, is equally important. Because they are going to learn something about conflict by osmosis, whether we like it or not.
Some Questions for Reflection
I’ve decided to write a section at the end of each of my blogs, to encourage personal reflection. I believe questions are a powerful method of gaining deeper personal insight. So, if you don’t like it, it’s totally fine (just ignore it). But if you do, I pray it helps you gain a more focused perspective.
- What is your conflict style?
- What do you think your followers are learning from how you manage conflict?