Tackling Emotions in Settling Differences

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Maliha had just returned from her 6-years-old daughter Anum’s school. She unfolded the now crumpled report of Anum that confirmed Dyslexia. Anum’s teacher was very caring and reassuring that Anum was an extremely bright kid, who just needed special attention and a different means to learn. Maliha’s child was different. How would she break the news to Ali, her husband? Anum was her father’s apple of the eye, the only child born ten years after their marriage.

Maliha knew this wasn’t the end of the world. But the string of tears just poured, staining her face. She decided to relieve her own pain, so she could be strong later when informing Ali. They could go out tonight to a quiet place, where she could gently explain to Ali all that Ms. Sarah (Anum’s teacher) had talked about. She carefully re-read the information Ms. Sarah had given her. Maliha mapped out in her mind the conversation that she would hold with Ali. She arranged Anum’s babysitting with her grandmother. She planned everything meticulously.

Meanwhile at the office, Ali had a monstrous day. He broke into an argument with his demanding boss. His top of the line worker had an accident and fractured his leg. One of Ali’s important customers filed a complaint about the company’s poor service. It was a trying day, and by the evening, Ali was glad it was finally over. All he wanted to do was go home, play with Anum, have his favourite meal and hit the bed. He had to be in the office very early next morning to prepare a compensation plan for his disgruntled client and present it to the senior management. That required much thinking.

When Ali arrived from work, he looked drained much to Maliha’s immediate disappointment. She suggested that they dine out to relax and change the mood, which was the last thing Ali wanted to hear.  He suggested otherwise. Ali wanted to eat at home and retire early to bed. Maliha insisted that she wanted to eat out without explaining anything. Ali was now very irritated, as he couldn’t understand why. He had had such a rotten day, and it was still not over with Maliha mindlessly nagging him about a stupid evening out.

They both projected what were their positional bargains, their own stances without finding out the reasons, why the other person was disagreeing. Both had valid reasons to differ but never communicated to each other. The hidden intent behind these differences remained concealed, until it was too late. Maliha and Ali, who were already vulnerable and wounded from previous experiences, locked horns and ended up in a battle.

This is what we experience almost daily with strangers, acquaintances and our dear ones – situations in which the hidden intentions are not communicated, assumptions are made at face value, and wrong results are derived from faulty calculations. The art of creating agreements is lost.

Could Ali and Maliha have handled the above situation differently? Maybe. Here is a guideline that “Timelenders” (a management consulting and training firm) offers for tackling emotions in settling differences:

  1. Be calm.

When you sense a disagreement with someone, do not opt for emotional outbursts. This may seem difficult initially but with conscious thought and practice, volatile emotions can be tamed.

  1. Recognize the other’s emotions.

Make a shift of priorities to understand the other person’s sentiments. Sometimes we are so consumed by our own feelings that we ignore the other person’s heartache altogether.

  1. Make your own emotions explicit.

Clarify how you feel, without expecting others to guess or take initiative figuring out your worries. No one is a master psychologist or owns a crystal ball to know what is going on in your life.

  1. Allow the other side let off steam.

If tempers are high, let the other person say what he/she has to. They won’t be listening to you in any case, if you try to out speak them, since they will be wrapped in their own miseries.

  1. Keep an eye on the emotional bank account.

It is easier to settle differences with people you have been nice to. If you have shared positive experiences and had a good relationship with them, there would be no grudges hindering or haunting from the past. Always try to treat everyone courteously, so they remember your past goodness.

A word of caution: possible communication challenges might occur, so:

  1. Keep an eye on the non-verbal communication.

Many people are not effective with words and are unable to explain their actual stance. In such cases, try to follow their body gestures, silence, etc.

  1. Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said.

When they speak, listen intently. Comprehend later. Judge lastly. Do not reverse the sequence. Also, do not multitask during a disagreement in order to avoid further irritation.

  1. Speak to be understood.

Don’t mumble, throw jargon, talk sarcastically or in under currents, so as to leave the other person wondering, what you actually meant.

  1. Don’t speak from the gallery.

Do not involve others in the conversation or talk in front of people who have nothing to do with your disagreement. Address only the parties involved.

Following are some non-verbal communication one needs to be mindful of:

  1. Speech pace and pauses
  2. Pitch and tone
  3. Use of space and distance
  4. Body motion and gestures
  5. Body posture
  6. Facial expressions
  7. Gaze
  8. Touch and body contact

In 1967, psychologist Albert Mehrabian analyzed the impact that a speaker’s attitudes and feelings leave on an audience. Following is what he discovered:

Imagine: in a conversation or presentation, visual content (your body language) has 55% of impact on others. Similarly, the way you present your words has 93% of an impact on the other person. If your verbal language and body language is out of sync, you can never be taken as a genuine person. If you want to apologize, your voice and expressions must convey it. If you want to appreciate someone, you cannot furrow your brows and twitch your nose when complimenting. Similarly, if you are concerned about someone, you can’t laugh and look merry about it. Your intentions have to be communicated with actions (co-related body gestures).

Differences and disagreements are part of life. They are natural and set us apart from machines. They facilitate us to mature as humans. They truly bare our soul. In such times, we are tested for our wisdom, grace and character.

Face the Facts

Did you know that our face can support:

  1. 8 positions for brows and forehead,
  2. 17 positions for our eyes and eyelids,
  3. 45 positions for our lower jaw,
  4. 43 distinct and separate muscle movements in the face giving us a combination of 10,000 identifiable facial configurations,
  5. Fleeting facial expressions that last for four hundredth of a second.

Subhan’Allah! If Allah (swt) is the Creator, we are a marvel of His creation.

Bridging Differences: The Art of Creating Agreements

bridges-cover

Conflict is a common aspect of our lives. It does not always involve someone being right or wrong, as even a clash of perceptions can lead to a conflict. The world around us is full of open ferocity. Even if we are living in a peaceful family and city, external factors instill our minds with rampant aggression. Mass media, games, movies and even news portray unrest. This has made us prone to hostile behaviour to the point that we feel it’s a common human trait, while it is not. We should face conflicts with a peaceful mind and a positive attitude to eliminate the problems from their roots. If we are hostile and impatient, we will only slide deeper into trouble.

Today’s fast-paced life requires us to maintain amiable relations with people around us, because we might not get the chance to solve conflicts at a later time. Delay in settling differences can jeopardize valuable relationships, too. Our aim should be to bridge any arising differences and cultivate positive ground, even if there is a disagreement.

Pondering over the ways our Prophet (sa) used to resolve conflicts, we can avail a complete strategy for ourselves to practice. Let’s look at some common mistakes people make in conflict-ridden situations and at the ways we can bridge differences by using a structured sequence of “Conflict Resolution Skills” (as taught by “Timelenders”, a renowned consulting firm).

Value Time

A common statement that we usually say or think is: “I don’t have time to explain”. We are in a constant race against time. We fight ourselves to wake up in the morning, stumble our way to get to work, are restless at our workplace, and cannot wait to go home. At home, we rush through dinner and then sleep, and the next day, we are back to the grind again. This unnecessary sense of urgency builds up stress. Eventually, it affects our relationships and leads to various conflicts. We assume that there is less time; hence, our focus is on getting what we want, regardless of the impact it can have on others.

Firstly, we need to realize that Allah (swt) has made a day with sufficient time. Thus, we should stop assuming that there is a lack of time and start utilizing it efficiently. To do so, we don’t need to attend any workshop. We merely need to consult the life of the Prophet (sa) and adapt to his lifestyle as closely as possible.

Assuming that the other person would not understand you or that there is not enough time for explaining is unfair; often, this becomes the main cause of a conflict. If we do not have a structured schedule, we tend to get stuck in prolonged unscheduled appointments. We should develop filters, which help us avoid such unplanned appointments by posing a politely phrased excuse and offering another available timing later on, and ensuring that we do fulfil our promise and not just get rid of them. Gifts are important tools for making people realize that we value them. Eventually, they would learn to understand our priorities.

It is not advisable to plan your day with back to back activities or tasks with hardly any breathers in between. Fill your day with realistic number of commitments.

Suspend Judgement

Commonly, we tend to evaluate others, while communicating. When someone talks, the listener does three main tasks:

  • He hears which is a mechanical action;
  • He comprehends what’s being said by comparing it with his own data;
  • He starts judging by deciding the authenticity of the information and evaluating its usefulness.

The listener needs to do all three these tasks in this exact sequence, in order to properly understand the information. However, people tend to make the mistake of comprehending and judging at the same time. Often, the listener has formed his final judgement even before the other person has completed talking. As soon as the judgement has been made, we disregard the later pieces of information, which could possibly lead to a totally different judgement overall. This process is called ‘premature judgement’.

Premature judgement is one of the main causes of conflicts, leading to unnecessary misunderstandings. In order to avoid such situations, we should completely suspend the task of judgement till the end of the conversation. If a lot of information is being communicated, try to take notes, so that evaluation can be done later. If you have missed out on any information, respectfully ask the person to repeat.

We should keep in mind the fact that “we listen what we want to hear”. By practicing proper listening skills and suspending premature judgement, we can eliminate various petty disputes from our daily lives.

Practice Strong Principles

For establishing successful communication, we should implement in our daily dealings the following principles.

  • We will not lie.

Allah (swt) has said: “In their hearts is disease (of doubt and hypocrisy) and Allah has increased their disease. A painful torment is theirs because they used to tell lies.” (Al-Baqarah 2:10) As Muslims, we cannot disregard what the Quran says. If the Quran contains such disdain for liars then there is nothing left to explain.

  • We will not deceive.

Allah (swt) has said: “They (think to) deceive Allah and those who believe, while they only deceive themselves and perceive (it) not.” (Al-Baqarah 2:9) Deceiving others is equivalent to deceiving yourself and obviously neglecting the presence of Allah (swt), as He watches us and knows what is in our hearts.

  • We will not take advantage of anyone’s weakness.

Exploiting others is actually a weakness within the person himself, which shows lack of confidence. When someone is selling a car for covering urgent hospitalization expenses, we should not take advantage of this person’s weakness by offering a reduced price. Instead, we should buy the car as per its market value.

Allah (swt) has commanded us not to lie or deceive, so we should not breach this commandment. Put into practice the three above principles on a daily basis, internalizing them as your own. No matter what situations or conflicts arise, we should examine ourselves to make sure we follow the above principles. A famous quote says: “Truth always wins.” Hence, we should always be among the truthful to be true winners.

Focus on Interests, not Positions

For understanding this fundamental principle of conflict resolution, consider the following story about two young boys fighting over an orange.

Ahmad and Saad were fighting over an orange. None of the boys was willing to share and kept on asserting their position: “I want the orange!” This argument kept on going for a while. Finally, a man came forward and divided the orange into half, distributing between the boys equally. Both were now content and went on to enjoy their piece of the orange. Ahmad threw away the inside of the orange and used the peel for an art project. On the other hand, Saad ate the fruit and threw away the peel.

Thus, in this situation, Ahmad’s interest was the peel, while Saad’s interest was the inside of the fruit. Was it a wise decision to divide the orange into halves? It was not. A wise decision could be reached, if Ahmad and Saad had first communicated their interests, rather than their positions. The position was that they wanted the orange, while their interests were very different. If the interests were communicated among the two, then Ahmad could have had the whole of peel, and Saad would have enjoyed the whole of the fruit. They would have had a win-win situation.

We tend to focus on what we want and assert all our energy towards availing that, rather than communicating the reason behind our needs. Humans have a logical mind structure, and our brain is designed to reason; thus, we should not fight for what we want, without reasoning about it with the other person. If we successfully communicate our direct interests, we will be able to avoid unnecessary arguments and develop better relationships. This process will eventually take less time and will give a win-win situation for both sides involved.

Be Mindful of the Human Angle

The human angle of any argument consists of perception, emotions and communication. Perception is of foremost importance in conflict resolution, because it helps us realize the diversity that prevails in human minds. Perception is the way we see something or imagine its intensity and existence in our own mind. Each person has a different perception, which is shaped by their life experiences. Thus, two people in the same situation may have an entirely different view of it, as each of them has their own perception.

When resolving conflicts, we need to consider this possibility of different perceptions of the same topic. Each perception is someone’s reality, according to which they will act. The better we understand each other’s perception, the better we will be able to negotiate.

In order to understand someone’s perception, we should put ourselves into their shoes and try to understand their views. Once we develop an idea about the perception of the other person, we can look for common or similar grounds of looking at the reality between us.

Furthermore, we should listen carefully, and avoid making premature judgement. Once we have heard the entire story, we can rephrase it to explain our own understanding of the problem. In this way, everyone will come on the same page, avoiding misunderstandings.

Generate a Variety of Possibilities

When trying to resolve a conflict, we should not look for a single solution. If we look for a single solution, we will leap upon the first one we come across, which might not be the wisest decision. Therefore, we should ponder over a variety of different possibilities and try to choose the most suitable one.

Insist on Objective Criteria

People involved in a conflict cannot always come to a wise solution by themselves. For availing the best solution and effectively bridging differences, we can apply set standards, which function as a criterion. Such standards may include:

  • Consulting a third party for a better solution;
  • Deciding from previous experiences or examples;
  • Letting a court make the decision;
  • Deciding according to moral standards of the society;
  • Deciding according to the Shariah;
  • Following tradition;
  • Following international standards.

For selecting a certain standard, list down the most applicable standards for your situation and then settle on the one providing the best possible solution. For instance, in a conflict of divorce, the most applicable standards can be Shariah, moral standards, and tradition and, in extreme cases, court and international standards.

Conclusion

Islam provides Muslims with a complete code of conduct and a structured lifestyle. In the life of our Prophet (sa), we have the best of examples to follow. We should also realize the fact that not every war is worth fighting for. If we find ourselves in a conflict, which seems to have no apparent solution, we should end the conversation on a positive note and let go of it. We should be ready to end such conflicts respectfully, accepting that sometimes it is better to part without coming to an agreement.

A very famous Chinese proverb says that “a family in harmony will prosper in everything”. We should consider all Muslims as our family and try to bridge our differences to have a harmonious Ummah. Once we are at peace among ourselves, we shall be able to focus on the larger goal of bringing back the glorious times of Islam.

Did you know?

  • 30-40 percent of supervisors’ and managers’ daily activities are devoted to dealing with conflicts in the workplace.
  • Over 65% of performance problems result from strained relationships between employees, not from deficits in individual employee’s skill or motivation.
  • The surging price of education has become the major cause of conflict between Chinese husbands and their wives.
  • Just about every family has one thing in common: money problems. Even millionaires bicker over how much to spend and how much to save, and money is the number one reason couples fight and the number one cause of divorce, according to psychologist Dr. Cristy Lopez.

Quotable quotes

  • “Peace is not absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” Ronald Reagan
  • “Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” Wayne Dyer
  • “Conflict can and should be handled constructively; when it is, relationships benefit. Conflict avoidance is *not* the hallmark of a good relationship. On the contrary, it is a symptom of serious problems and of poor communication.” Harriet B. Braiker in Who’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life
  • “I’ve known plenty of couples who choose to ignore budding problems or dissatisfactions because it’s easier in the moment. But too much of that for long enough, and you all of a sudden have a huge problem on your hands, or a midlife crisis, or a broken marriage.” Fawn Weaver in Happy Wives Club: One Woman’s Worldwide Search for the Secrets of a Great Marriage

Reaching a Win-Win Solution

win win solution

Consider the following incident and the two scenes that follow. The situation is similar but the interaction between key players is significantly different.

Asma’s final examinations are about to commence. She is in the eighth grade and her studies are tough. To allow her time to study and avoid late nights, her mother has already politely declined invitations to two family weddings. A couple of days before Asma’s exams begin, her dear friend (who studies in another school) comes to visit. She has brought the invitation card to her elder sister’s wedding, scheduled to be held on a Thursday. Since the next day is her exam, Asma knows she would not be allowed to go. Still, upon her friend’s insistence, she decides to talk to her mother.

Scene A

Asma’s mother refuses to budge. She categorically tells Asma that no parties or weddings will be attended in the middle of the exam week. Asma gets very upset. She has been studying hard and feels she deserves a break of an hour or so. Her mother tells her that she would be spending time getting dressed and then commuting: total of two to three hours. Then, she would want to stay till dinner and, hence, would return late night. She’d be too sleepy the next day. Asma says she will go, no matter what. Her mother says, no, no matter what. Both Asma and her mother get into a terrible argument that results in tears and silent treatment.

Scene B

Asma thinks a little bit before approaching her mother. She notes the time and the venue of the wedding. She mentally calculates the time she would be spending getting dressed and commuting to the wedding. With all this preparation, she talks to her mother and requests her to allow her an hour to attend the wedding. She assures her mother that she will do the preparation for next day’s exam well before time, will spend maximum fifteen minutes on getting ready and will not stay for the dinner at the wedding. She will simply go, meet everyone and then return. The break will be good for her and she would probably feel more refreshed for the paper next day. Asma’s mother thinks it over and then allows her to attend the wedding, if all conditions are met as put forward by Asma.

Note the difference in the two scenes. In the first, Asma and her mother engaged in positional bargaining: each has a ‘position’. They both argued tooth and nail to win that position. Eventually, they made up but it was not a happy arrangement for both. In the second, Asma and her mother engaged in interest bargaining. Asma knew her mother was not against attending the wedding per se. Her ‘interest’ was to ensure Asma’s exam did not get affected. Once Asma had identified all possible scenarios that her mother could oppose, she managed to convince her and attend the wedding without disobeying her.

In our daily interactions with our parents, spouses, children, neighbours or in-laws, we do encounter situations, in which we do not agree with another person. This is natural; what matters is how we deal with these differences to reach a win-win solution. There are basically two approaches towards resolving conflicts. Positional bargaining may result in a compromise, but one or both parties are usually not happy with the outcome. On the other hand, interest bargaining leads directly to a win-win solution, as it takes into account diverse interests and aims, rather than one’s position over a specific matter.

Despite interest bargaining being more beneficial, position bargaining is more popular. This is mainly because:

  1. It requires no or very little planning and preparation. Mostly, it depends upon a person’s position at the time of discussion or argument.
  2. It is very convenient, because it does not require planning or thinking through.
  3. It works most of the time and gives us results, even if not always wise.
  4. It can be applied to any situation.

On the other hand, interest bargaining requires some serious work. It needs proper planning and thinking through to reach creative solutions.

For example, 18-year-old Saad finds it difficult to wake up for Fajr and almost always gets into an argument with his mother about it. Position bargaining would mean that both Saad and his mother would come to a compromise: if Saad gets up for Salah for three days, he can miss it for three days, and his mother would not argue. However, this cannot be done, because the Salah is Fard (obligatory). No matter how tired Saad is, there is no excuse for missing the prayer. Once this premise is established in their minds, they can come up with solutions on how Saad can wake up for Fajr. This may include Saad educating himself on the importance of praying Salah on time, avoiding late nights, keeping multiple alarms and so on. It is important to note that the mother is not arguing to defend her position; she is defending a vital principle.

Similar is the case, when problems take root between in-laws. A frail, elderly mother-in-law, who is widowed and mostly bed-ridden, lives with her only son and his wife. The wife wants a separate portion in the house, because it is very taxing for her to look after a sick individual the whole day. She argues with her husband to hire a maid for the mother-in-law and move upstairs. Her husband can reach this compromise through position bargaining, and do as his wife suggests. However, he outlines the interests of them both:

  1. He wants his wife to be happy and content, and his mother to be taken care of.
  2. The wife wants some relief from the daily responsibilities of caring for the mother-in-law.
  3. The mother-in-law needs the company of her son’s family.

The son decides to hire a reliable maid, who can take care of his mother’s medical needs, so his wife can get some relief. The wife then agrees that she will not move to a separate portion, and, instead, will supervise the maid and give her mother-in-law company. This way, all parties are happy.

What are the attitudes of those, who engage in interest bargaining?

  • The interests of all parties in an argument are addressed for an agreement to be reached.
  • The focus remains on interests, not positions.
  • Parties search for objective or fair standards that all can agree on.
  • All parties believe that there are multiple satisfactory solutions.
  • Parties are cooperative problem-solvers, rather than opponents.
  • People and issues remain separate. People are respected, while interests are bargained on.
  • All parties are willing to search for win-win solutions.

How can you initiate and work on interest bargaining? Here is a quick guide:

  1. Identify your interests/needs in a particular situation. Be specific about what your needs are and how important they are to you.
  2. When negotiating or having a discussion, inform all parties about your respective interests. Make sure your needs are understood.
  3. Now, specify the problem. Word it in a way that it appears solvable by a win-win solution.
  4. Identify general criteria that must be present in an acceptable solution.
  5. Work toward an agreement.
  6. Identify areas of agreement, restate them and, if needed, write them down.

It is important to implement the following, during this process:

  • Educate and be educated about interests of all parties.
  • Assure that all interests will be respected and viewed as legitimate.
  • Show an interest in others’ needs.
  • Do not exploit another negotiator’s weakness. Demonstrate trust.
  • Put yourself in a ‘one down position’ to other on issues where you risk a small, but symbolic loss.
  • Start with a problem solving, rather than competitive approach.
  • Provide benefits above and beyond the call of duty.
  • Listen and convey to other negotiators that they have been heard and understood.
  • Listen and restate content to demonstrate understanding.
  • Listen and restate feelings to demonstrate acceptance (not necessarily agreement) and understanding of intensity.

All too often, we are so caught up in one-upping others and winning the argument that we forget the following authentic Hadeeth: “The most despicable amongst people in the sight of Allah is the ruthless argumentative (person).” (Muslim)

“I guarantee a house in Jannah for one, who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right.” (Abu Dawood)

At the end of the day, the purpose of any argument or conflict should be to reach a win-win solution. A well-known saying is: “Lose the argument, not the person.”

Coming to Terms with Familial Issues

family-bondingAnd Allah has made for you in your homes an abode (An-Nahl 16:80).

Are we playing our part in making our home a peaceful, serene abode? Is our sense of responsibility towards other family members still substantial enough to make our family an institution within itself?

We’re living in times when shamelessness, rebellion, corruption and self-obsession are at their peak. A righteous, practicing Muslim has to be all ears of the social dilemmas that surround him/her. In this day and age, one of the biggest shields that can protect us from falling trap in the social issues is being united with our family and home.

Most of us quickly jump to expectations first. We tend forget the transient nature of this Dunya and the perpetual, yet to come Akhirah. The temporariness of this world implies that nothing here would be perfect or ideal, because perfection is the attribute of Jannah. Nouman Ali Khan in his talk highlighted that an ideal Muslim does not exist rather there are ‘ideal ways’ to deal with one’s family.

I genuinely feel for the current familial crisis that we are in. I see in my home and other families that we have reduced the home to a place of eating, sleeping and resting or worse, using it as a place of entertainment. 

One of the biggest realities of life is that we have to deal with that tough member(s) of our family, who we get hurt by occasionally. Family issues, within the home have become really common and we all need a way out of them. However, like all other problems, there are no shortcuts to this. After having considered the basics of parental psychology and relationship psychology, I have realized that we have to encounter the tough relative to our best capabilities rather than wanting them to change.

I observed around, within my family, friends and my work place, I looked for the common error that most of the families were making. That sibling who comes home late, that parent who argues with you on wearing Hijab or not, that uncle who calls you a Mawlana, or the in laws who are always sarcastic about you, all have to be faced at some point in life. The indifference, the carelessness or rudeness within a family can rust the ties until one of us realizes that improvement can be made. Instead of hopelessly closing the file and locking that cabinet, we need to reconsider that relationship in a number of ways. The best of people in Islam have had the toughest of family members, even sometimes non-Muslims. Aasia had Islam’s enemy as her husband and she prayed for a house in Jannah; Yaqoob (as) had disobedient sons except Yusuf (as) despite of his hard work into parenting. We can take numerous examples by reviewing the Ahadeeth and boost our morales.

We need to reconsider this reality; no matter how hard we try, we can’t change the person if he or she is not willing to change. We can only work on ourselves as the biggest room is the room for self-improvement. Nuh (as) did not change his wife neither did Ibrahim (as) change his father. They kept their duty to Allah (swt) and are the blessed legends of Islam today.

We can’t change the person if he or she is not willing to change. We can only work on ourselves as the biggest room is the room for self-improvement.

In dealing with an apathetic family member, we often make the mistake of repeatedly quoting Ahadith and Ayats, in the hope that they will realize. This can work at times but not always, because we are not working on the root cause; each family member has a need to be heard, to be understood and respected. We need to first identify what they are responsive to and then give our sound advice.

Yusuf Estes, in his talk Family Development, highly discourages the blame games we play at home with our family or even our relatives. After a particular situation, we start talking in ‘if’ terms. ‘If you had listened to me, you could’ve  . . .’. Such statements only ruin the Islamic atmosphere of the home. Today’s parents and even youth have developed the habit of cursing each other. If a 13 year old doesn’t listen to the mother, the mother yells ‘Allah will deal with you.’ If the brother doesn’t switch off the music while the sister is praying, she yells right after finishing her Salah, ‘Allah will ask you’.  We should really stop and ponder over our choice of words and the temperaments at our homes today. Is the love for our family so less that we can think of Allah (swt) questioning them on the Day of Judgement?

A strange heated friction exists between siblings, parents and even grandparents. We have become so aggressive verbally and non-verbally that it ruins the very roots of our relationships. 

It was narrated from Abu Hurairah (rta) that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “The strong man is not the one who wrestles others; rather, the strong man is the one who controls himself at times of anger. (Muslim)

A strange heated friction exists between siblings, parents and even grandparents. We have become so aggressive verbally and non-verbally that it ruins the very roots of our relationships. This friction prevents the youth from coming home early or the parents to get up and have discussions with their kids. The interpersonal relationships are deeply affected shaking the grounds of trust, sincerity and love. We need to choose our battles wisely, we need to prioritize the unwelcomed advices we give. Before taunting a young boy to keep a beard to become a true Muslim, we need to find Khushoo in our own Salah and ensure its regularity.

Unfortunately, what has become of us? The intrinsic values that the Sunnah of our Prophet (sa) imbibed in us are gradually sinking somewhere. A significant issue that exists between families and within a family is the different opinions they have about Islamic aspects; the elder brother follows the Hanafi school of Fiqh while the younger sister follows the Sha’afi  school of Fiqh. Moreover, there are other minute differences such as the sister ridiculing the younger brother for listening to the lectures of Shaykh or an Ustadh regularly instead of respecting her. One method of dealing with such a scenario when one faces opposition through opinion is to motivate the relative or the family member to seek further knowledge and also humbly accept the imperfection that one’s knowledge might possess. Over and above, the Sahabah (ra) and the Salaf (ra) spent their entire lives as students of the Deen and never complained. Similarly, the Shaykhs we tend to criticize harshly have spent much of their life studying Deen and serving people. How can we question the sanctity of their knowledge in a second?

I genuinely feel for the current familial crisis that we are in. I see in my home and other families that we have reduced the home to a place of eating, sleeping and resting or worse, using it as a place of entertainment. We should strive forth and amend our modes, tone and even our non-verbal gestures. Each act of kindness and piety should begin from within the home.

When making changes to our behaviour towards our family, we should keep in mind that each step that we take for improvement is for Allah’s (swt) pleasure. Ibn-e-Taimiyyah rahimullah has magnificently summed up an advice regarding relationships:

“Anyone whose heart is attached to the creation, hoping for someone from the creation to help him or provide for him or guide him, then his heart submits to them and to the degree that his heart submits to them, he becomes their slave. This holds true, even if he is outwardly a ruler or a guardian over those whom he treats as masters. The wise one looks at realities and not appearances. So if a man’s heart is attached to his wife, even though it is permissible, his heart remains a prisoner to her, and she may rule over him as she pleases-though outwardly he is her master and her husband. In reality, he is her prisoner and her slave, who cannot escape or go free. Indeed for the heart to be taken as prisoner is a much greater matter than for the body to be taken as a slave or prisoner. Even a body that is slave can have in it a serene heart, peaceful and happy heart. As for the heart, that is a slave to other than Allah (swt), then that is true humiliation, imprisonment and slavery.”

Image Courtesy http://sbs.strathmore.edu

Conflict Resolution in Schools

Conflict is a natural, vital part of life. Teaching our youth, how to manage conflict in a productive way, can help to reduce incidents of violent behavior. Conflict Resolution Education is a beneficial component of a comprehensive violence prevention and intervention program used in schools.

Experts identify four school-based conflict resolution strategies which can be employed in other settings also. These are commonly known as:

(1) Peer Mediation Approach                                               

This strategy enables specially trained student mediators to work with their peers in resolving conflicts. It has been reported that this approach to conflict resolution reduced playground fighting to the extent that peer mediators found themselves out of job.

(2) Process Curriculum Approach

Teachers implement the Process Curriculum Approach by devoting a specific time – a daily lesson – to the principles and processes of conflict resolution. This helps disputants envision scenarios and generate options for achieving results.

(3) Peaceable Classroom Approach

This is an integration of conflict resolution in the curriculum and daily management of the classroom. Instructional methods of cooperative learning and academic controversy are used, thus decreasing the need of teacher to address the problems directly.

(4) Peaceable School Approach

The Peaceable School Approach incorporates the above three approaches for creating schools, where conflict resolution is adopted by every member of the school community. These schools promote a climate that challenges all its members to believe and act on the understanding that a diverse, non-violent society is a realistic goal.

Constructive Criticism and Conflict

Here are some constructive feedback techniques which volunteers and supervisors can use for avoiding anger and conflict.

(a) Use positive language. Such questions as “did you ever try to do it, like this?” are much better as compared to, “You never seem to get this right.”
(b) Constructive feedback comes without strings. The supervisors should present feedback in an unthreatening manner designed to help. This allows the student to ask questions, take risks with the new things, and not to fear retribution or rejection.
(c) Be specific. Even if the student has several areas needing improvement, stick with one at a time.
(d) Set the tone for change. It may be outlining new training, assigning a mentor, monitoring by volunteer or supervisor, and giving an award, when the change is fully implemented.

The 5 Win/Win Steps

1. Cool down – those involved in the conflict are asked to collect their thoughts calmly.

2. I feel… – one person explains their side of the story, using the “I feel” message.

3. You feel… – the listener paraphrases what was said.

4. Brainstorm – those involved suggest ideas to solve the problem.

5. Shake hands – this is the ending step, signaling that all is done and things are okay.

Note: Steps #2 and #3 are done twice.

Literature

Literature is a natural vehicle for teaching. Stories dealing with conflict management can be used as tools for observing and reinforcing conflict management concepts and skills. While reading the stories, the teacher may do the following:

1. Stop reading at the point of conflict and ask: “What is the conflict? How do you think it will be resolved?”

2. After completing the story, ask: “How was the conflict resolved? Was it an effective, win-win resolution? Would you have done differently?”

The Garbage Can

The teacher explains that the classroom is a positive place for learning. Furthermore, she understands that the students are often carrying to school a lot of problems, which she refers to as garbage: they may have gotten up late, missed the bus or had an argument. This garbage is distracting and might interfere with learning in class. Therefore, students are encouraged to deposit all negative thoughts and feelings into an imaginary garbage can outside the classroom.

Taking a Look at Conflict Behavior

Students are asked to analyze a situation of conflict they were recently involved in by answering the following questions:

  • What happened?
  • How did you feel?
  • What did you do?
  • Did this resolve the conflict?
  • If not, what could you have done to solve it?
  • What will you do next time?

Conflict Web Subject

This activity invites students to consider the big picture of the conflict.

1. In the center of a paper, the word ‘conflict’ is written and circled.

2. Students suggest associations and memories the word ‘conflict’ evokes. A line is drawn from the main circle, and each suggestion is written down.

3. The web continues to grow, as long as interest remains high.

This is followed by a discussion about the elements all conflicts seem to have in common, and the actions that make the conflict worse or cool it down.

Options for Conflict Resolution

Active Listening – have one-to-one meetings with each of the conflicting parties. Do not offer or promise resolution; rather, assure each side of a safe, non-judgmental, and confidential forum for talking.

Shuttle/Liaison – seek to help each side to articulate their grievances and needs in a way that the other side can recognize and understand. This helps both to step back and calmly analyze what is happening, as well as find constructive ways of expressing their concerns.

Encounter/Facilitate – serve as a facilitator and bring the parties together to facilitate the process.

Seek Support – call someone unrelated to the conflict to assist you and/or the parties in working through their conflict.

‘I feel’ Messages

These messages allow the students to voice their feelings.

Building an ‘I feel’ Message I feel ______ (explain, how it made you feel)

When ______(tell the person exactly, what they did)

I want ______(say, what you want from them)

Examples:
“I feel mad, when you don’t listen to me.”

“I feel sad, when you call me names.”

Adopting such strategies for conflict management will enable our kids to deal with conflict, empathize with their peers, and, eventually, work towards creating an environment of mutual understanding all around them, Insha’Allah.