A better way to handle conflict

Published 11:19 pm Friday, September 11, 2015

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

This week, two conflicts involving major sports personalities spilled over into the news. Both were nasty, ugly, public and totally unnecessary. From them we can learn a vital principle about dealing with conflict.

The first was the “Deflategate” scandal. In a playoff game this past season, Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots and the most famous player in the NFL, was accused of instructing Patriots ball handlers to deflate the balls to a level disallowed by the rules.

Email newsletter signup

So how was this going to be handled? The commonsense approach would have been for NFL executives to call Brady and say, “Look, we keep hearing that you guys are deflating balls, and we found some in the last game that were low on air. We can’t allow you guys to do this.” They could have even added, “From now on we are going to be watching.”

That would have ended it right there, and none of us would have known a thing. But what did the NFL do? They hired attorneys and launched a full-scale public investigation of perhaps their most popular player. How did he respond? By hiring his own attorneys. Eventually the case went to court, and Brady won. But did he really win?

The second conflict involved pitcher Matt Harvey of the New York Mets. Harvey, the Mets ace, is playing in his first year back from “Tommy John” surgery on his arm. Still, he has pitched well, and his team is steaming toward the playoffs.

Enter Harvey’s agent, the combative Scott Boras. Boras went on talk radio programs, making the claim that the Mets were endangering his client by pitching him too often in his first season back from surgery.

Then, despite the fact that the Mets have coddled him and catered to him, Harvey spoke to the press and essentially backed his agent. He even refused to say that he would pitch for his team in the playoffs.

The New York tabloids and fans went ballistic. In one day, Matt Harvey went from New York hero to New York villain. One day he was seen as the ultimate competitor. The next day he was seen as a quitter and a whiner.

Instead of having his agent go on talk radio, why didn’t Harvey approach the Mets coaches and executives and say, “Look, you know how bad I want to pitch. But my arm is feeling tired and I am concerned. I just don’t want to reinjure it and not be able to help at all.”

The Mets, who have always been protective of Harvey, would have understood, and something would have been worked out. Harvey’s arm and his reputation would have been protected.

Now his reputation is in tatters, and he stands to lose millions in endorsements.

Who really won in both of these conflicts? Nobody. Absolutely nobody. Everyone involved looks bad.

This is exactly what happens when we approach conflict with a slash-and-burn, “win-lose” mentality. Nobody wins, not even the “winner.” Everybody loses.

Proverbs 17:14 wisely says, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.”

In other words, settle conflicts quickly and behind the scenes, or you may have a raging flood on your hands.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.