You Make Peace with Your Enemies, Not Your Friends

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan and watched last Sunday’s episode, the title above should sound familiar to you. If you’re not a fan, the show depicts a complex world where pretty much everyone is trying either to obtain power, right a wrong, or just survive. The reality is that there are sometimes a lot of similarities between our organizations and the world in Game of Thrones.

When I think about the 21 years I spent working in an organization, I can think of a lot of folks, both people served and caregivers (myself included at times), who were engaged in these activities. Sometimes it would take the form of one shift of caregivers trying to make themselves look better than another or a person served acting out to gain some feeling of control over their environment. At times caregivers would feel so overwhelmed that it was all they could do to make it through their shift. There are so many more examples that I could give, but I’m sure that most of you can think of your own.

All of this going on sets up an environment that breeds conflict. I have seen groups of staff who work on different shifts in the same group home have so much animosity toward each other that they gave every appearance as enemies, or individuals who were distrustful and angry at their caregivers because of the way they were being treated.

In The Mandt System, we spend a lot of time talking about teamwork and conflict resolution. Yet when we have environments where people are barely communicating with each other, and if they are, almost all of that communication is negative, it’s hard to get those people to work at making peace. This type of environment, just like in Game of Thrones, is very unsafe for everyone. So we gather together with people we like and with whom we feel safe which causes “us” to become more alienated from “them.”

At the end of our chapter on conflict resolution, we talk about how all of these dynamics make us less effective in our purpose and goals as organizations, and that our failure to work out our differences in positive, respectful ways ultimately negatively affects the people we serve.

The good news is that we can do better, but we have to be purposeful about it. When we have a conflict with someone, we can think about what to say or do before we say or do it to try to avoid things that will make the conflict worse. We can assess not only our own needs in the situation, but also try to understand the needs of the other person. We can strive to treat everyone with dignity and respect as we seek to work together with each other to affect positive change in the lives of the people we serve.

Doug ZehrVogt, Mandt Faculty