Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Conflict Management the Prophetic Way Part 5

Her ugly facial expressions, harsh tone, and speed of talking made it clear – she had a mean attitude. I didn't feel a mustard seed of pity for the patron who was talking to this receptionist, though. My thoughts were consumed over how I, being next in line, was going to present a rather unusual request to her, without being the recipient of the same wrath the patron in front of me was suffering.

I wanted to ask this police office receptionist to provide me with a letter acknowledging receipt of my wife's police reference check application. That's what my wife's future supervisor wanted; without it, she wouldn't get a work placement. We had called the police office earlier but were told that they did not issue such a letter, although they did give us a file reference number for her application. We thought that by talking in person at the police office, we may be more persuasive in getting the letter my wife needed, but this receptionist was scaring me already.

Still in line, I was recollecting my knowledge of conflict management to arm myself for a possible onslaught.

“Next in line please!”

Here it goes.

“Hi, my wife applied for a police clearance check...”

“But we don't provide such a letter.”

“Yes, I was told that, which is why I prepared a letter for you so that you could simply sign it or put some stamp on it.”

“I just told you, we don't do that.”

“Well, what is preventing you from doing that?”

She stared at me for a minute, with her eyes squinting. “Don't you understand? We don't provide such a letter - ”

“Yes, I understand you don't do that but -”

“You're saying that you understand but you keep on asking for the same thing!” She snapped.

“Okay, do you understand what I'm saying!?”, I retorted with a firm voice. For the moment, my conflict management skills went out the window. My emotions had taken over my rational mind. She stepped back a bit and stared at me. I tried to recover.

“Look, my wife's employer is looking for some proof that she has applied for a police reference check. Otherwise, she won't get a work placement. So I'm asking you out of your generosity, even though I know you don't do this, to provide us with some written proof that you have received our application.”

“Well, I can bring down the person in charge of this but I know he will say the same thing I'm saying. Here's his number. Next in line please!”

In the end, my wife didn't get the receipt she was looking for, but nevertheless, alhamduliLlah, she still got the work placement.

This incident illustrates that putting knowledge of any sort into action may not be easy at first. Knowledge of conflict management is no exception. Conflict management is a skill, and skills take time to develop through repeated training. Fortunately or unfortunately, conflicts are before us everyday – life is a training ground for conflict management. The key is to see each conflict as an opportunity to sharpen one's conflict management skills, rather than to get caught up in the conflict itself.

I knew that the likelihood of my request being accepted was small. The conflict had nothing to do with me or the receptionist – the source of the conflict was structural, or circumstantial: There was no policy by the police department to provide acknowledgement letters for police reference checks. Nevertheless, I still wanted to know what the underlying concern for such a structure was, so that perhaps we could arrive at a win-win situation that addresses their concerns while satisfying our needs. The receptionist didn't want cooperate though. I also wanted to show empathy by showing that I understood the policy, but again, she didn't want my empathy. That's when I got frustrated and things fell apart, despite my attempt to recoup.


The development of skill goes through four stages. These four stages are a function of consciousness and competence.

In the first stage, an individual is both unconscious and incompetent. In other words, not only does the individual not have a given skill (incompetent), he/she is oblivious to the existence of that skill (unconscious). For example, an individual may be terrible at managing conflicts and doesn't even know that conflicts are manageable.

In the second stage, an individual is conscious but incompetent. This is where most of us, including I, are at. The individual knows about conflict management (conscious), but he/she has difficulty putting this skill into practice (incompetent).

In the third stage, an individual is both conscious and competent. The individual knows about conflict management and puts that knowledge into practice effectively.

The fourth stage is the optimal stage, where the individual is unconscious but competent. In this stage, the individual is able to manage conflict (competent) without any thought or effort (unconscious); the skill just comes out naturally, as second nature. It's like driving a car – the skill to drive is so well-established and natural that it doesn't take a conscious effort to execute that skill.

Conflict management can become second nature to anyone through repeated exposure to conflict and application of conflict management principles.

I wish I could illustrate these phases of skill development with an example from the Prophet's life . The Prophet ﷺ was different from us, however, in that skills such as conflict management were inherent in him in their most perfect form. He didn't have to go through a process of development to acquire them. He was always competent in conflict management, whether consciously or unconsciously. As a Messenger of God, his life  was filled with all types of conflicts with all sorts of people, and in each instance, his management of those conflicts was measured perfectly to the situation and the person. In turn, his conflict management skills set the gold standard for humanity to aspire to.

May Allah make us all better conflict managers, and may he draw us all closer to His beloved . This post concludes the series of posts on 'Conflict Management the Prophetic Way'. If these posts, or any other post, benefitted you in any way, please share this website with others, submit comments, like, and subscribe to my blog via RSS or email (using the options on the side bar).

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