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A Sure-fire Way to Reduce Conflict in Your Life

When I was a little girl, the police came to the door with fair regularity. And they always had my grandmother in tow. The typical police visit would go something like this:

I’d answer the knock on the door. Standing there would be a giant New York State Police officer. Next to him, looking chastened, would be my 4′ 10? Scottish grandmother, who lived with us. She was in her mid-80s at the time.

My mother would come to the door. “Good afternoon, Ma’am,” the officer would say. “Is this your mother?” “Yes, Officer,” my mother would reply calmly. “Ma’am, are you aware your mother is hitchhiking?” “Yes, Officer,” my mother would reply.

The officer would usually look a little nonplussed by that. “Are you aware that hitchhiking is illegal, Ma’am?” the officer would ask my mother. “Yes, Officer,” my mother would reply earnestly. “Then why don’t you stop her?” he’d ask. To which my mother would reply, “Officer, if you can stop her, please be my guest.”

Yes, my granny was a hitchhiker. It entertained her, gave her something to do, gave her lots of people to talk to. And it was still a relatively safe activity back then for an old woman with a thick Scottish burr and a desire to gab and go anywhere someone would take her in our region of upstate New York.

Then one day, when she was 86, she hitchhiked too long in the hot sun, got sunstroke, and toppled over into a ditch. After that, the doctor told my parents that they had to do whatever it took to stop Granny from thumbing rides. In desperation, my mother locked up Granny’s shoes. And felt terrible about it.

The police visits stopped for a few weeks. Then, early one morning, I heard my mother laughing hysterically from the living room. She happened to glance out one of the front windows and saw Granny on the edge of the road, purse over her arm. Thumb out. In her fuzzy pink slippers.

You know, there’s too much conflict associated with getting someone to do something they don’t want to do…or don’t think they should have to do. I call it “Get Them To” conflict. We can’t avoid all of it. But a sure-fire way to reduce conflict in your life is to remember that there are two sides to every negotiation and your chosen solution isn’t always the best or right one. The minute you notice yourself thinking, “I just want to get them to ___,” slow down and give yourself an attitude adjustment.

After what became known as the Fuzzy Pink Slipper Incident, my mother returned Granny’s shoes. “Have a ball, Mom,” she said. Granny agreed not to hitchhike on the hottest summer days. She hitchhiked regularly until she died at 89 in bed one morning. Dreaming, no doubt, of all those thumbed rides.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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