Solve Your People Problems
CBN.com Dr. Alan Godwin is a psychologist in private practice in Nashville, Tennessee. For over 20 years he has helped individuals, couples, and organizations develop better ways of handling conflict. Certified in Alternative Dispute Resolution, he conducts seminars, is a frequent contributor to a variety of consumer publications, and is a consultant to businesses.
In his first book, How to Solve Your People Problems, Dr. Godwin combines his professional expertise with biblical principles to help readers avoid conflict when possible and handle difficult encounters constructively. (Read my review of his book.) He and his wife, Penny, have been married for 30 years and have three children.
Recently I had an interesting and pleasant conversation with Dr. Godwin, and found him to be warm, genuine, caring, and calm.
Dr. Godwin, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I absolutely loved your book, How to Solve Your People Problems and have been recommending it to my friends and family. Tell us what you mean by the term “people problems?”
We’re attracted to each other’s positives but encounter each other’s negatives when we get in close. Our imperfections rub up against each other and friction occurs. What results from close-contact friction is what I’m referring to as “people problems.” These occur in any setting—work, school, friendships, marriage, and even at church. And the closer the contact, the more likely the conflict.
You make a distinction between “bad” and “good” conflict. Define “bad conflict” for us.
Friction can be either bad or good. A grain of sand in your eye can cause blindness, but the friction of sandpaper can turn an ugly piece of wood into something beautiful. Similarly, conflict can be either bad or good. We’re naturally prone toward the bad kind. When human nature governs our relationships, bad conflict is what we do. And bad conflict hurts us.
You also refer to bad conflict as “the conflict trap.” What do you mean by that?
When we argue, we tend to get trapped in a cycle of reacting to each other’s reactions. That’s why we say, “We go round and round and never get any place.” Some of us react to each other loudly. We call those “shouting matches.” Others react silently in what we refer to as “freeze outs.” Either way, we’re trapped.
How does bad conflict hurt us?
It hurts us in four ways.
- First, no problems are solved. We argue but accomplish nothing.
- Second, it feels awful, not only to the people arguing but to those listening.
- Third, relationships become alienated. We tend to avoid contact just to avoid the conflict.
- Fourth, it brings out our worst. It turns us into worse versions of ourselves.
So, what is “good conflict?”
Good conflict is the good kind of friction. It may not feel good when we’re in the middle of it but the outcome is positive. My quick definition of bad conflict is arguments that accomplish nothing. My quick definition of good conflict is arguments that solve problems. In other words, good conflict is the ability to engage in problem-solving conversations.
If bad conflict hurts us, how does good conflict help us?
The outcomes are all good. First, we can solve problems and lay them to rest. Second, it feels positive. While bad conflict is exhausting, good conflict is energizing. Third, relationships become closer. It enables us to connect well and enjoy what relationships are created to provide. Fourth, it brings out our best. The close-contact friction knocks off our rough edges and helps us grow.
Let’s talk some about unreasonable people. Why do you have a separate section in your book on handling conflict with them?
We all have difficult people in our lives. This may be the jerk at work, the high-maintenance church member, or the relative we wish would move overseas. It’s been said, “You can’t reason with unreasonable people.” The conflict rules that work so well with most people don’t work with unreasonable people, so different methods must be used. It’s been my experience that most people don’t understand that.
What makes unreasonable people different from reasonable people?
The main thing that distinguishes reasonable people from those who aren’t is problem-solving. Reasonable people have what unreasonable people lack—problem-solving abilities. Those abilities in unreasonable people are like muscles that never developed or atrophied from years of disuse. In terms of problem-solving, they’re like children in adult bodies, which is why dealing with unreasonable people can be like dealing with children. That’s why we call them “difficult.”
What can we find in the Bible about resolving conflict and getting along with others?
In my book’s conclusion, I reviewed what the writers of Proverbs had to say about the subject. It’s all there: bad conflict, good conflict, reasonable and unreasonable people. The labels may be modern but the ideas are ancient. God used the writers of Proverbs to tell us about these notions almost 3000 years ago. And the same ideas are described by other writers in both the Old and New Testaments.
Now that you’ve written your book, do you have any plans for teaching this material to others?
Yes, I’ve developed a six-session seminar to present these ideas in businesses and churches. And I have three versions of it:
- one for the workplace
- one for marriages
- one for those in ministry.
The material is flexible enough that it can be presented in one full-day, two half-days, or as a weekend retreat. Anyone interested in learning more about these seminars could visit my Web site, www.peopleproblems.org.
To read more tips for handling conflict, check out How to Solve Your People Problems.
Read a review of the book.
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Paula Friedrichsen is a writer and speaker who lives in Central California with her family. Visit her Web site at www.PFMinistries.com.
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