A client (I’ll call him Joe) recently agreed to do some home improvement work for a couple. Joe called me after he was almost finished with the job and told me that the couple was accusing him of not doing the work in accordance with their agreement. Although he had an initial proposal that was signed by the couple, they had changed the plans a few times and added several new items to the original proposal. Unfortunately, Joe didn’t have any of the changes or additions in writing.
When he called, the job was about 80 percent complete. Upon completion, the couple would owe him $30,000. My advice to Joe was to sit down with them and discuss all outstanding problems and issues. I told him to make sure to bring along a trusted employee as a witness and to outline exactly how they were going to proceed with the project. I emphasized that every problem and outstanding issue needed to be detailed in the outline, including how final payment would be made. I told him that he and the couple needed to date and sign the written outline before any more work was done.
After I was done telling him how he should handle the situation, he said,
I appreciate your advice, but I don’t like confrontation. I guess I’m just too nice to people. What I’ll probably do is finish the job and then bill them for the work. I’m afraid they won’t be willing to sign anything and they’ll tell me to get off their property. If that happens I won’t get paid, and I really need the money to pay my vendors and other bills. I can’t afford to lose the money that’s owed to me.
I responded by telling him that if the couple wasn’t willing to meet with him and sign a written outline as to how the project would be completed, they probably wouldn’t be willing to pay him when the job was completed. In that case, he would be worse off because he would have invested additional time and resources in the project that he wouldn’t get paid for.
He agreed with me that the best approach would be to talk to the couple and attempt to work out their differences before doing any additional work, but then he repeated, “I’m afraid if I do what you’re telling me to do, they’ll tell me they no longer want me working on the project and I won’t get paid. I need that money to pay my bills.”
I reminded him that if they weren’t willing to work things out now, they wouldn’t be willing to pay him when the job was done. I also told him that if he completed the work without a written agreement, he would give up the remaining leverage he had. If he insisted on an agreement before doing any additional work and they told him to get lost, they would still owe him for the work he did and would also have to pay to hire someone else to finish the project. He was in a better position to demand a written (clarification) agreement now rather than risk doing the rest of the work without getting paid.
Although he understood the logic of what I was saying, Joe’s fears and emotions were still getting in his way. He repeated what he said earlier, “I don’t like confrontation. I’m just too nice to people. I really need the money to pay my bills.”
I got firm with Joe and told him what I periodically have to tell some of my clients:
No one likes conflict. No one. Some people are better than others at handling conflict, but no one likes it. You must be willing to engage in conflict when necessary. The longer you put it off, the worse your situation gets. You know that you are going to eventually have to have a discussion with this couple. It’s up to you to decide when the best time for that is. You know that it’s better to deal with the issue now. You need to have the courage to get it over with now rather than later.
Joe did what I told him to do, and although the conversation with the couple got ugly, they were able to come up with a written outline as to how they were going to proceed. Joe ended up agreeing to reduce the amount that was owed to him, but he was also able to finish the project and recover most of the money that he was entitled to. But there was something that Joe got out of the deal that was more valuable than the money – the lessons he learned from the experience.
The conversation I had with Joe concerning the need to engage in conflict now rather than later was based on my personal experience in dealing with family members, friends, employees, clients, lawyers, and judges. It took me many years (and a lot of unnecessary frustration and pain) to learn this one valuable lesson. I still have to push myself to engage in conflict when the need first arises and not hesitate and allow the situation to get worse. My ability to effectively (and fairly) deal with others has improved dramatically because of my willingness to quickly confront issues that most people would normally put off.
The majority of people avoid conflict whenever possible. Yes, there are some people who seem to enjoy and seek out conflict, but those people are in the minority. They’re the ones who have their own internal personal conflicts that cause them to lash out at others. They don’t realize it, but their inappropriate behavior hinders their ability to develop healthy relationships.
St. Peter avoided conflict when, on three separate occasions, he denied knowing Jesus. On the other hand, Jesus was willing to engage in conflict whenever it was necessary. He never avoided conflict or put it off until later. Who are we called to imitate, St. Peter (when he wimped out) or the Son of God?
As devout Catholics, we need to always be ready, willing, and able to engage in conflict whenever our beliefs and faith are attacked. In our country, we are currently dealing with serious problems that have gotten completely out of control – problems concerning contraception, abortion, divorce, adultery, pornography, and homosexuality. If we had been willing to stand up and fight for what we believed in fifty years ago, our religious freedom would not now be under direct attack from our government.
The good news is that Catholics are starting to wake up to the reality that they must be willing to engage in conflict to protect the religious beliefs and freedoms they have always taken for granted.
With the Blessed Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the angels and saints on our side, the only way we can lose this battle is if we fail to do our part. And what is our part? To willingly and courageously engage in conflict by using our prayers, time, talents, resources, sacrifices, hard work, and intellectual firepower to defeat the enemies of our church.