The problem with other people’s problems


There was a season in my life during which I worked as an auto claims adjuster. Anyone that knows me well knows that is an odd job for me to have had, but when you’re in need of work and no one else is calling you on the phone, you take what you can get.

During my tenure as an adjuster it never ceased to amaze me how different people could witness the same auto accident yet give very different accounts of what exactly happened. You could talk to four different people who were all in some measure of proximity to the event and get four stories, each with their own take on what happened. Sometimes the people were all in the same car but would still have slightly different versions of what happened. Why? Perspective.

In the course of my life I’ve spent a lot of hours observing, resolving, and experiencing relational conflict firsthand. Occasionally, someone — even someone to whom I’m very close — will approach me with an issue they’re having with someone in their life. Sometimes it’s a coworker, other times a friend, still other times a spouse. Through the years I’ve come to realize that when a person airs their frustrations about someone in their life there’s always another perspective. I can never arrive at a full understanding of what’s going on with a given relational situation without getting all perspectives. Even if the person speaking to me is someone I know well, I’ve come to understand that everyone has biases, filters, blind spots, personal baggage, not to mention my own prejudice as their friend (or, to my embarrassment, my own prejudice against whoever may be causing my friend pain), that skews my understanding of what they’re experiencing.

In days past I would be quick to take up someone else’s offense if they came to me to complain about another person in their life. I would listen to a friend vent about someone in their life that was causing them turmoil and quickly reach conclusions based only on what this person was telling me. Most times those conclusions were faulty because I didn’t have the whole picture.

I’m still the kind of person that others feel comfortable approaching to discuss their personal issues. These days, however, I spend more time just listening and less time arriving at conclusions. More often than not, I realize that I’m not even supposed to do any more than listen and encourage communication to take place.

As a claims adjuster, it was my job to determine who was liable for damages resulting from auto accidents. But, I could not do that without thoroughly listening to all perspectives. I’ve come to realize that it’s the same thing with relational conflict. If I am going to jump in to help a friend who’s dealing with tension with a significant person in their life then I can’t arrive at any honest conclusion or offer any real assistance without listening to all sides.

Wherever two or more people gather to pursue a common goal — whether business or personal — there will be tensions and conflicts. But I’ve never known any conflict to be one-sided.

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