A question that is frequently raised by Members, Clubs, Area Governors and Division Governors is “how do we respond to conflict, and particularly when it is sent by email?”

Buddha had a great response!  A very angry man interrupted one of the Buddha’s lectures and proceeded to hurl insults. The Buddha just sat there calmly. Finally the man asked the Buddha why he didn’t respond. The Buddha replied, “If someone offers you a gift, and you decline to accept it, to whom does the gift belong?” The man replied, “To the one who offered it.” Buddha responded, “Then I decline your abuse and request you keep it for yourself.” serenity_buddha_207473

When people offer us their anger and abuse, we can choose whether we accept it, or leave it with its source and owner.  It’s a little bit like evaluations.  We can choose whether to take it on board or not. However, that can be easier said than done, particularly when ‘feelings’ are involved.  One suggestion is, visualize the other person’s anger as a red energy bouncing off you, back to its source.

Another, and perhaps more realistic response, particularly if the abuse has come to you by email or letter, is no response! Certainly not straight away.  Make it a rule that, if you are offended, hurt or angry by someone’s comments, you don’t respond to them until you have your emotions under control.  This is a leadership skill. When our response is fuelled by our emotions it usually escalates the issue.

So, assuming that we have calmed down and have our emotions under control, how do we respond?

Allow me to share with you a personal experience. At the recent district leaders mid-year training in Bangkok we were discussing an item of conflict. One of the district leaders said that where there is emotion in an issue “feelings must come first, then fact”.  This concept really impacted me.

What she was saying is: When someone is angry or abusive – it is likely that their “attack” or outburst is driven by their emotion.  If we can stay detached and recognise and acknowledge the other person’s emotion, we have a better chance of defusing the situation. Once defused, then the facts can be addressed.

So, Iet’s say I have received an angry email from someone.  Can I look beyond the words and understand why they are angry and then acknowledge that to them.  Perhaps I can say to them, “I understand that you are frustrated and angry that this hasn’t been resolved, and I apologise for that”.  I then have a reasonable chance of being able to talk calmly with them about what can be done.

face2face When we respond to anger and insults with anger and insults it just pours fuel on the fire. If we can wait, acknowledge, defuse and then deal with fact we are demonstrating great leadership.  The golden rule is: Never send a communication nor respond to a communication while you are caught up in a negative emotion – whether it be anger, hurt feelings, disappointment.

When communicating make it face to face. If circumstances don’t allow then Skype or phone are the next best channels. Email is not the medium to use. It is impersonal, cannot portray vocal tonality and body language.  As amazing as today’s technology is, it is not the medium for dealing with conflict.

We would like to think that this behaviour won’t happen in Toastmasters where we adhere to our core values of Integrity, Respect, Service and Excellence.  However, if tempted to send angry emails or angry responses remember a golden rule: “if you can’t say something to someone’s face–then don’t say it at all”.

Marilyn Freeman, District 69 District Governor