Applying Ignatian Spirituality to Conflict Management

Applying Ignatian Spirituality to Conflict Management

By Chuck Boehmer

For a living, I handle renovations for State Department facilities.  Sometimes, it’s like a making a machine out of parts moving in unpredictable and uncontrolled directions. Often, things don’t go per the plan.  So, dealing with conflict is a major part of the job. Although I lack formal training in conflict management, I have lots of experience with it. I found that two Ignatian practices are especially applicable to conflict management. They are the Presupposition and the Examen.

The Ignatian presupposition, which appears in St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, asks us to assume that others are acting out of good intent. Similarly, conflict management doesn’t assume that one side is correct and the other is wrong. Rather, conflict resolution requires objectivity, gathering the facts, and analyzing them.  Introducing preconceived notions or prejudice into the equation could easily derail the chance of successful conflict resolution. Utilizing the Presupposition in conflicts allows for objectivity, by emphasizing listening and understanding. Unlike acting like the proverbial “Monday Morning Quarterback,” conflict resolution includes identifying what conditions lead to certain decisions, and what information was available at the time. This leads clearer comprehension of the perspectives of all parties involved, resulting in a fairer outcome.

During my Navy days, we did after action reports after training exercises.  Coaches and players dissect hours of film after a game.  Both examples share the same goal. Looking back on what went wrong and right leads to more productive decision making in the future. Centuries earlier, St. Ignatius applied a similar concept to the spiritual life. The Examen is a form of daily prayer which involves reflecting on a whole day. The prayer includes identifying the day’s highs and lows, as well as looking for moments of God’s presence. One way to pray the Examen is to imagine watching a recording of your day, and God pauses it at key reflection points.

We ask God to show us what God wants us to notice in our day. When the Examen is a daily habit, we are better able to identify the root cause of conflict and to see what in our lives and conflicts is prompted by the Holy Spirit, and what is not.

Saint Ignatius taught us to find God in all things.  I find this guidance very appealing.  To me, it means dismantling the barrier between the tangible daily life and the spiritual one and apply Jesus’s teachings to our interactions with others.  Like many of us, I operate in a secular work environment.  Ignatian practices, such as the Presupposition and the Examen, may be used in such settings, especially to manage conflict.  Dealing with conflict is often uncomfortable and stressful.  Relationships with others can be fragile. That’s why we want to achieve conflict resolution with as little harm as possible. Sometimes, not everyone is content at the end. Still, I’ve found the Presupposition and Examen to be valuable tools and will remember to use them when future conflicts emerge.

Parishioner Chuch Boehmer is a member of the Young Adult Community.