Conflict: Taking a Step Back

A little while ago, I was invited as a guest to an advanced Toastmasters’ Club. Unbeknownst to me, my great timing had me to visit the club on the same day a Business Meeting was conducted. A lively discussion ensued about whether or not to change/update the membership joining “restrictions” (for lack of a better term) as the club had grown and evolved. Some members were very much in favour of updating the restriction while some members were very vocal about leaving the wording as is, and sticking with the status quo. There is no nice way to put it: the business meeting gave me second thoughts about joining the club.

Why? My reservations had nothing to do with the club or its members. I thought and still very much think highly of the club and the members in it. The membership restriction (while nothing wrong) was something I could not meet from a personal standpoint. I concluded the club and I would not be a good fit; I would continue my search to find an advanced club that would be right for me. No hard feelings.

Fast forward two months. After expressing my reservations to the original gentleman who had invited me (I was curious to find out if the original conflict had been resolved), I found myself back at the exact same club and by sheer fluke, sitting in on another presentation that addressed the stalemate from the original business meeting.

Why? The original Toastmaster convinced me to take a step back and ask myself about my underlying goal: what was it? (To take myself to that next level of public speaking). Would the club help me get there? (Yes.) Would they welcome my potential membership bid? (I believe they would.)

The presentation was an eye opening experience. The chair was masterful at directing the discussion and keeping things on track. In the end it felt like the definition of one word had caused a lot of conflict between the members. A lot of members had thought this one word meant one definition, while another group of individuals (including myself) had another definition of that same word. Both were common definitions but had differing implications. It was only when everyone stepped back and addressed the underlying core, which allowed a potential agreement to be reached.

My mind keeps flipping back to the original stalemate. Everyone had discussed (passionately) whether to change the membership statement, but it was only when we were directed to take a step back did we discover the real conflict had begun with differing definitions of the same word. Arguing over the outcome did not help when not everyone was on the same page.

Perhaps the next time conflict arises, take a step back and ask: what is the conflict? What is the underlying issue? Most importantly, are the conflicting parties arguing from the same page? It may just come down to a difference in definitions.

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2 thoughts on “Conflict: Taking a Step Back

  1. Interesting timing – for my club speech next week, I was reading last night about gun laws in the US, and the various court cases over the meaning of the words in the 2nd amendment. Boy, people get into shouting matches over different interpretations of words alright!

    • Thanks for your support Craig! I agree sometimes it all comes down to the definitions. It was also interesting to learn essentially every member of the club shared the same view for where they wanted the club to progress, and they were the same individuals that had shared such opposing views a short time before.

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