Seeing a newborn baby invariably overwhelms me with the urge to run or scream. The sound of bawling toddlers often echoes for hours in my ravaged ear canal. I consider it a survival mechanism to forget their names as soon as possible. That Laura and Helena, our daughters, survived their childhood despite me, is thanks to my lovely wife Nathalie.

However, the miracles are not over. Now that my daughters have grown into wonderful adolescents, our bond is stronger than ever. We enjoy "Stranger Things" together, find Jeremy Clarkson funny  and share the same musical taste. When the band Rammstein toured our country I made it a point of honor to get tickets for their sold-out show. My frantic efforts led me to ticket touts in highway parking lots with strange Polish account numbers for the eventual purchase of four tickets for the gig on 10 July 2019. Contrary to expectations this joyous news was not received in the same spirit at home.  Our oldest daughter had planned to spend the entire second week of July by the sea with friends. My suggestion to collect her for the performance was also met with little enthusiasm. Rammstein with Laura was not going to happen. At that point, I responded by falling back on my expertise as a Communication Science teacher - get angry.


After some slamming doors and the chilling silence that followed, my anger gave way to insight. After all, the tickets and by extension the Rammstein performance were less important than their symbolism. Years ago, when Laura narrowly escaped a dangerous illness, she slept very badly. She sat on our lap throughout the nights, half asleep. In order to stay awake ourselves we sometimes passed the time by watching video clips. The Rammstein clip "Links 1-2-3" in which a column of ants marches to the beat of the music, was particularly liked by Laura. At her request we saw that clip together dozens of times, helping us to forget the worries of the moment. Going to the performance together was, for me, the closing of a difficult period full of uncertainty. The way out of this conflict was to put aside my pride, be vulnerable, and share my true feelings with Laura. We therefore had a really good conversation, from which it appeared that she had long forgotten that video clip, and we came to an understanding. 

And that is the essence of conflict management: first understand and then act. There is nothing wrong with a disagreement about "how" we are going to do things, as it often leads to creativity. However, things go wrong when we don't first want to understand "why" we disagree and "what" those differences mean. This very often requires vulnerability, putting aside ego and the need to be right.

A first step is therefore daring to face up to our own motives and ideas. Ask yourself "why" certain things affect you or not and be brave enough to go beyond your initial idea. Naturally, this also means that you listen without prejudice to the "why" of ideas and motives in others. George Michael sums it up powerfully as "listen without prejudice".

A second step is daring to enter into an open and responsible dialogue to identify similarities and differences. Make sure everyone knows "what" these are. Confusion of concepts often ensures that we stay away from the essentials and turn instead to symptom control. Fuzziness leads to frustration, full stop. Bravely name things and be open. The conflicts that originated from past omissions can no longer be counted.

And finally, the conversation can be started as to "how" we deal with the differences. This requires longer than a chat over coffee. Ensuring that all parties have the same input, sufficient alternatives are discussed or agreements regarding the selection of solutions - all elements that require a questioning process and process monitoring.  

Unfortunately, we are seeing all this going wrong in the United States right now after the murder of George Floyd. Refusing to understand the protesters and their response moves a society further from resolution and closer to escalation. Avoiding dialogue, not daring to mention things or opting for a one-sided approach are all elements that lead to even more conflict.

So this week, let my tips on conflict management also be an appeal to all of us. We are all responsible for putting aside prejudices and deferring our opinions. But let us also, by raising awareness and setting aside Flemish diffidence, name prejudices. Silence is also communication, let's not forget that.

And now I'm going to look for tickets, Rammstein is sold out again!

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