Bridging Differences: The Art of Creating Agreements

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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

[Hadeeth Commentary] Prescription of Ihsan (Excellence)

Adapted for Hiba Magazine by Tasneem Vali

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On the authority of Abu Yala Shaddad bin Aws (ra), the Messenger of Allah (sa) said:

“Verily Allah (swt) has prescribed Ihsan (proficiency and perfection) in all things. So, if you kill, then kill well; if you slaughter, then slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.” (Muslim)

Ihsan is an Arabic word and is a derivative of Ahsana, which means, ‘doing things better’. The literal meaning of Ihsan is achieving the best. Ihsan is normally translated as excellence but because it has a broader concept, it cannot be translated into English accurately. There is no word in the English language that portrays its meaning fully. Ihsan has four aspects.

As with any Islamic injunction, this Hadeeth contains a principle and provides an example in compliance with that principle. The Prophet (sa) used this method extensively to train Muslims to use logic and apply one principle to other similar situations. Due to our commitments, we understand the example, but fail to implement the principle. Sometimes, we do not give a 100% to the tasks we perform for Allah (swt). Ihsan means that we must not be satisfied unless we do something to the best of our ability. We should be motivated by the sole reason that Allah (swt) has prescribed this for us. The Hadeeth mentioned above can be applied in any situation. It may help reform the society if practiced correctly. Whoever tries to be proficient (practice Ihsan), can do so in two situations:

  • To benefit others.
  • To complete and refine worship.

Ibadah or worship includes the prescribed acts of worship, as well as the routine habits. Everyday actions and mundane chores can become worship if performed with the correct intention. Hence, they must be completed to perfection. A believer must practice Ihsan in everything. The best people are those whose actions and dealings are the best. For example the companions of the Prophet (sa).

“If you do good, you do good for your own selves, and if you do evil (you do it) against yourselves.” (Al-Isra 17:7)

The golden rule of behaviour as told by the Messenger of Allah (sa) is: “Whoever wishes to be delivered from the fire and enter the garden should die with faith in Allah (swt) and the Last Day. And should treat the people as he wishes to be treated by them.” (Bukhari)

What are some of the things we should aim for perfection in?

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The principles of Ihsan should be our lodestone, the test we do to determine the amount of effort we exert to live up according to its suggestions. Our appearance, the way we eat or sleep, the way we conduct our professional lives, our Dawah – Ihsan should be observed in all these actions, which are Ibadah. Some other principles to implement in life are:

  • To respect the scholars and not to compare them with each other;
  • To obey your rulers. Follow the rules that they have set as long as they do not contradict the rules of Allah (swt);
  • To be kind to animals, and not to torture them. Feed them regularly and not to abuse them by overloading them etc.

Even in killing, Muslims must apply Ihsan. Rules of combat/war are:

  • Not to kill old people, children, women, and those who are not fighting.
  • When killing the aggressive enemy/criminal, Ihsan must be applied and observed. They must be killed without torture. We should not cause any harm or suffering to anyone we kill.
  • Captives should be treated with Ihsan as well.
  • Harmful animals such as snakes, scorpions etc. must be killed quickly, no torture is permitted. Animals must be slaughtered with a sharp knife, causing minimum pain. Their necks must be cut with a single, clean stroke and must not be slaughtered in view of other animals.

Thus, if you think logically, using weapons of mass destruction contradicts the concept of Ihsan.

Living in accordance with the concept of Ihsan and applying it to all that you do, entitles you to acquire Allah’s (swt) Mercy and Forgiveness. Insha’Allah you will be amongst the Muhsineen.

Reward for the Muhsineen- in the light of Quran

“Truly, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (the good-doers).” (Al-Baqarah 2:195)

“And verily Allah is with the good doers.” (Al- Ankabut 29:69)

“For those who have done good is the best (reward, i.e. Paradise) and even more (i.e. having the honour of glancing at the Countenance of Allah (swt).” ( Yunus 10:26)

“Is there any reward for good other than good?” (Ar-Rahman 55:60)

10 Guiding Principles in Establishing Cordial Relations with In-laws

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The word ‘in-laws’, by convention, has a negative connotation, in our part of the world in particular, where society has not broken the shackles of oppressive cultural practices. Our knee-jerk response to a discussion on in-laws, therefore, tends to be restricted to what’s ‘wrong’ with them. In such an atmosphere, it becomes difficult to see beyond the stereotypes and consider our own individual situations in a fair light.

A lot of people seem to know that in Islam there is no obligation on the daughter-in-law to care for her husband’s family. But in considering this, they forget that there are other rights that they still need to fulfil by virtue of the in-laws being, at the very least, their brothers and sisters in Islam.

Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said, “None of you will believe until you love for another what you love for yourself.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Would we love for ourselves that people talk negatively about us behind our backs? Would we love that people harbour feelings of hatred towards us? Would we love for our own parents to be constantly criticized and/or shunned by their daughters- or sons-in-law?

Here are some things to focus on, in our relationship with our in-laws:

  1. Start off with good expectations of them. Not everything other people tell us about their in-laws has to be true about ours.
  2. People are not all good or all bad. Everyone has positive and negative qualities. We do, too. In fact, there is some good even in the worst of us. Look for that good. Focus on it instead of on what is not to your liking.
  3. Everyone needs, and thrives on, respect. Respect for the other person cannot be developed if we notice only their negative qualities and keep mentioning them in front of other people. (You think your mother-in-law does that to you? Before you pass a judgement on her, examine your own attitude and ask yourself: are you perhaps doing that to her, too?)
  4. Don’t talk about her behind her back unless it is to mention her good qualities. Backbiting destroys relationships especially because it perpetuates a negative image of a person in everyone’s minds and makes us ignore our own shortcomings.
  5. Misunderstandings arise when we don’t really know the other person well. Limited conversations and interactions related to household chores are not the best breeding ground for establishing meaningful relationships. Really knowing the other person means we know what makes them happy, what makes them special as a person, what they want out of life, what struggles they have faced, and what they have accomplished so far. Taking interest in another person and considering him or her a human being worthy of knowing can make a world of difference in how our relationships can develop.
  6. Be fair. Noticing only what you don’t like about your mother-in-law? Stop. Remind yourself of all the things she does that perhaps help you out. Does she watch the kids, supervise the maid, and do the cooking every now and then? Sometimes we are looking so hard at all the things that annoy us that we forget to notice what is good in the other person. If we notice only the negatives then we are not really being fair.
  7. Feel responsible to bring out the best in other people. Our feelings towards them will translate into our attitude towards them. If we check our feelings constantly, we can correct our attitude, too.
  8. Keep your eyes on your Akhirah. Sometimes we are so busy keeping our sight on how others should be that we forget to evaluate our own selves. Are we on the correct path, towards Jannah? Or are we letting ourselves drift off?
  9. You don’t own anybody. Not yourself. Not your husband. Not your children. They are all an Amanah (trust) from Allah. We have to do our best with that Amanah. Your in-laws have a right over your husband and children, too. Make sure you are not taking away that right.
  10. Make excuses for your in-laws because nobody is perfect. Hamdun al-Qassar, one of the great early Muslims, once said: “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.” (Narrated by Imam Al-Bayhaqi in his Shuab al-Iman)

The principle being stated here is that no one is free of error, and everyone makes mistakes. If we would like our mistakes to be overlooked then we should want the same for others.

May Allah guide us to be of excellent character in all of our relationships. Ameen.

Image courtesy: Flickr