Several weekends ago I headed to the airport with a friend for a much anticipated weekend getaway to Montreal. Neither of us had been to Canada, and we both were looking forward to a weekend filled with adventure. Little did we know our adventure would begin at the airport.
Traveling to Montreal in the middle of February is cold business. We agreed to break our “never check a bag” rule and pulled out the big suitcases. We gloriously stuffed our giant bags full of sweaters, scarves, boots and all the cozy fashions we never have an opportunity to wear in Dallas. It felt extravagant to travel with so many clothing options. Neither of us brought a carryon. This was planned as a work-free weekend, so I intentionally packed a purse too tiny for an iPad or computer.
We arrived at the check-in counter 57 minutes prior to our departure time. Three minutes too late to check bags for an international flight. We wasted another minute staring in horror at the airline employee who — as politely and calmly as he could — told us there was no way those huge bags were getting on that flight. We wasted another 15 minutes while the airline employee clattered away on the keyboard searching for flights that might get us to Montreal that evening. I think this was actually a stall tactic. No one wants to deliver the news: You are not going to Montreal tonight.
I looked at my friend. We spoke at the same time.
Him: We may just need to go home.
Me: We are getting on that flight.
In his book Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher writes: “Any method of negotiation may be fairly judged by three criteria: It should produce a wise agreement if agreement is possible. It should be efficient. And it should improve or at least not damage the relationship between the parties.” I was as committed to all three as I was committed to Montreal.
Finding creative solutions to meeting underlying interests is critical to achieving resolutions that are mutually beneficial. I knew getting to Montreal would require creative, quick thinking, compromise and collaboration.
With only 30 minutes to spare, we asked the airline employee to check us in. I called Uber to come fetch our bags. My friend headed toward security so he could get in the excruciatingly long line and work his way into the airport where he could purchase a carryon at a gift shop.
Twenty minutes later he met me at the sidewalk as I was loading the luggage in the Uber car. Our luggage was going home without us. We packed a set of clothes each in our new carryon and ran through security and to the gate with three minutes to spare. We were headed to Montreal. We did not have our fancy clothes, our boots or our cozy sweaters. But we achieved what mattered most to us both … our weekend getaway.
Conflict is a part of everyday life. When it is managed in such a way that underlying issues are addressed and the interests of all parties are honored, conflict becomes an opportunity for growth and learning. My friend and I learned a lot about each other as we navigated this conflict together. And, as a result, we added an additional layer of trust to the relationship because we were willing to collaborate and compromise to solve the conflict.
Managing conflict effectively requires learning new skills and practicing those skills daily so that they become a default mode for responding to conflict. Fortunately, every day brings new opportunities to practice these skills. When we seize opportunities to practice in the everyday conflicts, we ready ourselves for the bigger conflicts — the conflicts that have the opportunity to truly transform us.
Robyn Short is a mediator with expertise in transformative mediation and restorative justice models for dispute resolution. Whether in a corporate, nonprofit, academic or home environment, Robyn assists parties in discovering the root causes of their conflicts, so they may transform their relationships and create new and productive paths forward individually and as teams. Robyn helps organizations through mediation, facilitation, onsite conflict training seminars, leadership training and dialogue circles. Learn more at www.RobynShort.com.