Helen's Mulberry Lane Farm Journal
Conflict in relationships; it is all around us. In the workplace, in the home, in extended families, and in our churches and communities.
We stay up nights "replaying the tapes", grieving over them, we talk to our mentors about them, we cry about them and often we are angry and harbor bitterness over them.
I personally think that most conflicts can be reconciled if both parties practice "speaking the truth in love" (listing the facts of the conflict in a loving manner---called healthy communication) and both parties have hearts that are willing to reconcile.
I thought I would share with you a recent interchange/conflict I had with one of our lawn customers and also a personal friend whom I will call "Mr. X". It is a classic example of a conflict with all its hurt and accusations and bitter tears thrown in.
I got a phone call from Mr. X. asking if we would clean up his fall leaves. We had worked for him before so we both knew the ropes.
I said we would take the job and the next day the kids did the work. This job was more than just leaves but acorns as well. If you have oaks trees you know of what I speak! This meant picking up a zillion acorns by hand! We had four teenagers work for several hours to complete this job.
When I was preparing the bill for Mr X., the total amount was pretty steep. Out of kindness to our customer and friend, we subtracted one third off of his bill. I put the bill in the mail.
Two days later, I received a phone call from Mr X. He was very upset! How dare I charge that outrageous price! I told him that picking up acorns was hard work, that we had more work than we could take and that it was all about supply and demand. He said he would not pay our hourly rate for even skilled labor, let alone unskilled labor! He said a few other unkind things and then told me to forget coming back for further work. I didn't say much in response.
A week later I got his payment. But with the check came a note, a very "not nice" note.
In my wildest imagination did I ever think I would have needed to protect myself with a prior agreement about what the expenses might be to work in my yard.
You completely blind-sided me by what you charged for your children's work. You say supply and demand is what determined your action. No, it was simply slam-dunking your friend and neighbor in an outrageous manner.
If you continue to act in this manner the very least you must do is to let the people know up front your charges."
I wondered how he treated his enemies. Ouch!
It turned out to be rough day for me. Several online customers had issues with their orders and the way they interacted with me was anything but polite. (Have you noticed rude is the new normal?) To further make my day, aol.com was blocking e-mails for our online math and spelling drill customers. I was ready to move to Alaska and live off of wild berries and plants and leave all of these home business problems behind.
Some days are like that.
What to do about Mr. X.
First I was angry.
Maybe I'll just take a nap for awhile.
I had several choices.
Ignore it and move on. Put my head in the sand and hope I would never run into Mr. X.
Call him and give him a piece of my mind, comparing his "American Dream" lifestyle (you know the life that all of the Presidential hopefuls keep telling us we deserve because we are Americans) to our lifestyle, etc.
I could gossip about Mr. X. all around town (with lots of embellishments---called slander) and give him his just desserts that way. But that would only shed light on what kind of a person I was.
I was all for moving out of Loda to Alaska.
But running away does not solve conflict because we can't run away from ourselves and our problems. Running away gives the bitterness time to fester and grow into a cancerous, ugly,"bigger than reality" mess.
The goal when there is conflict is reconciliation. Nothing else.
It was time to hit the ball back to Mr. X.'s court.
In tears, I wrote the following letter to Mr. X. I prayerfully wrote this, having my husband read it first and thinking on it for twenty-four hours before mailing it.
Dear Mr. X.,
I got your note with your payment. You obviously continue to be outraged.
I am returning your check. I will pay the children for their work out of my own pocket.
Your friendship and my family's reputation in our community are worth more than money to me.
I consider you and your wife my friends and I think we have proven over the years by our actions that this is the case. I have really enjoyed getting to know your wife during the several times we have chatted when she visited our store. You have now put a wedge between that friendship and that makes me sad.
We did not “blind-side”, “slam dunked” you or rip you off. I am offended, insulted and hurt by your unfounded accusations and find them unkind and unfair, especially considering we are friends. You owe me an apology.
We charged the same rate to you as we do all of our customers. If you think this rate was inflated and unique to you because you did not ask ahead of time about our charges and that we took advantage of that, you are incorrect. If you doubt my word, ask two of my customers, whom I also consider my friends. (I listed two names for him.) The facts are that we charge them and all of our 40+ customers the same rate we charged you. We have charged this rate for well over a year. Several of our lawn customers have had bills well over $350 for leaf clean up each fall. In our 18+ years in the lawn business, no one has ever treated us the way you have.
We all make mistakes. Looking back, if I had known that my friend, Mr. X. a man whom I trusted and respected, would have been outraged and would have responded the way he did with his hurtful, unfounded accusations against me and my family, who are working hard to earn an honest living, I most certainly would have told you the rates ahead of time. I do hope that the next time you hire someone to work for you that you will ask them ahead of time what they charge, so there are no misunderstandings and that you don’t end up paying more money than you are willing to pay.
Most people ask our rates up front. Most pay our charges, but some do decline ahead of time because of the cost. I believe you share some responsibility by not asking me our charges ahead of time.
You are quite right; I should have told you the rates and I am sorry that I did not. I trust you will accept my apology for that oversight. Should this kind of situation arise again, I will most certainly not neglect to tell any new customers what our rates are before we do the work, to keep this kind of misunderstanding from happening again in the future. Live and learn.
The facts are that you seemed very pleased that we would do your acorns at all. You hired us and we did the work promptly, (next day after you asked!) and did excellent work. Doing acorns is very hard work and hardly worth it, to be honest. That is why no other yard work companies will do that or leaf cleanup. It just doesn’t pay. The children find it back breaking work both cleaning up the acorns and lugging them home to dispose of them, which we did not charge you for, by the way.
We have had so much work this past two months that we simply cannot keep up. That is what I meant by supply and demand. We have plenty of other work, much easier work than picking up acorns by hand, that if you don’t want to pay the rates we charge, that is fine. There are many that do and we will of course, work for the best dollar we can get. That is the way the market works. Would you not do the same for your own family?
I don’t know what you pay when you go to the doctor. But when we go we pay about $600 an hour. This is skilled labor, but you say you won’t pay even $35 for skilled labor? I would like to know where you pay less than that for skilled labor! We know that our local plumber, for example, charges $75 just to come out to the house, and then adds labor and parts to that.
It is actually kind of funny that you think I “blind-sided” you. When I was preparing your bill, I actually deducted one third of the bill out of kindness; I didn’t put it on the bill because I didn’t want you to feel obliged, etc. Now I wish I had put it on the bill. Please note that this kindness that I extended to you, our family could well not afford to do so during this very financially, difficult drought year.
We meant you no malice. I trust you believe and will accept my explanation, both as a friend as a business operator.
We stand by our outstanding Christian reputation in our community and if you think the hard working Aardsma family is out to be dishonest and disreputable, you are wrong. Our almost 20 years in our community has proven otherwise.
Helen E. Aardsma
I didn't hear from Mr. X for several days so I assumed he was still outraged and that the relationship was pretty much over. There wasn't anything more I could do. He batted the ball into my court, I batted it back and so now it was his turn. I was hoping he would return the ball and I continued to pray for reconciliation.
You can't fix something if the other person doesn't want it fixed. End of story. Beginning of cancer for the person who refuses to bat the ball back.
Then, I got a phone call from Mr. X. He left a message. I could hear the tearful emotion in his voice.
"Hi Helen, Mr. X. here.
I owe you an apology. The biggest apology I ever owed anyone in my life.
I would like to come and share this apology in person with you if that is agreeable with you.
If you would please call me back, I would so appreciate it."
You can imagine my tears.
Time for me to hit the ball back.
After I got my tears under control, I called him.
"Hello Mr. X.
I would love to talk with you and whenever you would like to come over, I will make myself available."
He said he would be right over. He was batting the ball back, and was running not walking to get here! Hurrah!
We both had tears in our eyes when we greeted each other and we both were obviously nervous. He stumbled over his words through his tears. He thanked me for being willing to even see him. I gave him a pat on the arm, and told him I really appreciated that he humbled himself and came over and acted like a man, not to mention that he was a Christian (as in born again) man.
He said he was completely ashamed of himself and prayed that I would forgive him for his unkind, rude, and insensitive comments. He said he had never done anything like that before and he hoped and prayed he would never do anything like it again. He actually thanked me for caring enough about him and his wife to let them know how I felt and for giving them a chance to make it right and that he was a better man for it.
“I apologize to you. Will you forgive me for my unkind, insensitive, and hurtful words?”
I batted the ball back to him.
“I accept your apology and I most certainly do forgive you. I have more esteem and regard for you now than I did before, and it was pretty high then. You have had a sterling reputation with me both as a Christian and as a friend. Let us just forget this aberration and move forward. As far as I’m concerned it has never happened."
We talked for sometime, both of us in tears. He apologized several times, but I told him we were done with that now and that as far as I was concerned we were completely reconciled.
He thanked me for that and said that with real repentance comes restitution and that he wanted to make things right by paying the full bill for the hours worked. I reassured him that any payment returned was not necessary and that it would not make a particle of difference to me or how I felt towards him. He was forgiven and that it wasn't about money.
He was insistent on making restitution and I told him that if he felt he needed to do that to make peace in his own heart so that he could sleep at night, then I would not deny him that peace and would humbly accept whatever payment he wanted to return.
I told him that we would be glad to work for him anytime he needed us and that things were completely restored between us. He said that whenever we meet again, from time to time, he will feel ashamed of himself all over again. I told him to not beat himself up, but move forward. Live and learn.
We hugged as we departed and he thanked me again for being willing to see him and for accepting his apology.
Our friendship came to a new height, strengthened by humility, genuine repentance, reconciliation laced with kindness and a heart of forgiveness. What a thrill to be part of such an interchange! All because both parties continued to bat the ball, awkwardly and ineptly, yes, but working towards the goal of reconciliation.
The next day Mr. X. came to my store. He was at peace and we were both comfortable with each other. He handed me an envelope. We chatted and joked about this or that. In the envelope was a check for the full payment for all hours worked, as well as this note.
Thank you for yesterday. You were kind and gracious. Peace. Mr. X."
A true story of conflict with a happy ending. So rare. So precious. So real.
Someone sent me this question.
"I really appreciate what you wrote about the conflict you had with one of your customers. I am in the middle of a mess. I am president of a twelve member board in which two of our members have had a conflict. It is affecting the entire board and our ability to do the work our board is supposed to do.
Only the two members were present when the actual conflict took place. One says one thing. The other says another. You have stated in your column that the facts must the put out on the table. How do we get at the truth of the conflict? I feel that if we don't get to the truth and actually confront the one who is the problem here, our whole board is going to disintegrate."
Good question. Some might argue that it doesn't matter who is right or who is wrong, but that is not seeking for truth, but putting one's head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away. It never does, but rears it ugly head again and again, usually getting worse over time.
People who are generally at the root of the conflict need help in several ways, but definitely they need to realize that they will be challenged again if another problem comes up in the future. Confrontation acts as a deterent.
It is kind of like children. If you don't discipline them when they misbehave, they just get worse and worse until you have a juvenile delinquent on your hands. The child has never had to face consequences of their behavior. It isn't good for them. It isn't good for this board member either. Love does what is in the other person's best interest, even it it means confrontation and discipline. That is how the military works, the work place works, breaking laws works, (why do people slow down when they see a police car?), etc. This is the real world.
You are right that unity of the board is important to future functionality.
First observe how the two in conflict are communicating. Sometimes poor communication skills of one or the other or both are really the problem and they need help working through to a solution. This is common. You as the president may be the best one to help with this. Or maybe you have another board member who has this skill. If no one has this skill, read up on good communication skills and walk them through to a solution.
If you don't think that is the problem, look at the character history of the two members. Make a mental list or even on paper if need be. Generally, people's character traits stay the same over time. (I have found that our weaknesses are aggravated as we age! Sigh.)
Think of each person involved in the conflict.
Are they often causing friction and trouble, disgruntled, complaining, unkind, having a bone to pick, having a bad attitude, have a chip on their shoulder, rude, etc. I'm not talking about one or two incidents (we all have bad days) but generally over all is this the way they behave?
Once you have done a character history now observe each member as they relate to each other in the conflict. Are they wanting to reconcile and get the facts on the table? Are they prideful? Are they attacking the character of the other person? Are they angry? Do they seem to have a personal vendetta against the other? Are you finding that the facts are getting more exaggerated each time the story is told? Are they just wanting to argue all the time so eventually they tire everyone out and then they can say they won? Does winning seem to be their goal? Are they calm? Are they humble? Are they stating facts? Are they expressing a desire to reconcile and move forward? Are they willing to apologize if they were wrong, if necessary?
You can continue on with this line of thinking.
Generally speaking, the person who comes out with the most negative traits is usually the one who is the trouble maker. Not always, but in my experiencing dealing with conflict, both in counselling and personally, this has been the case.
If both are about the same as far as negative traits, then both need confrontation.
Confrontation is never fun and is nerve wracking for all involved. Make sure you have eaten, are well hydrated and generally rested, if that is possible.
Confront the trouble maker with you and another board member present. Never speak with these people alone. You need to be able to have someone verify the facts of the conversation. Be loving but firm. Talk to them about how they are responding to the other person. You need to be specific. "When you said that Joe was a jerk, can never do anything right and it impossible to work with, this wasn't really helpful or kind. Was this kind? Don't you agree that this just escalates the conflict?" If you aren't specific it is too easy for the person to dismiss what you are saying.
If the person agrees with you, then have them apologize to the other party. The conflict is now over, if the apology was genuine. If more conflict arises, confront again.
If the person refuses to cooperate and just wants to fight, bring it to the board level and have the board vote as to further disciplinary action.