Resolving Conflict and Remaining Friends

From the monthly column "Becoming". ShowSight Magazine, February 2019 Issue. Click to subscribe. 

Dog shows and the people who participate in them can become intense at times. I know. That was the understatement of the year, but the year is young, so I have time to come up with a lot more. I recently went through an experience that involved five friends— all good people who take our work deadly seriously—and a noisy disagreement. Spoiler alert—we are all still good friends, but it took some seriously good work to keep it that way. I normally don’t like to “air dirty laundry in public”, but I think there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the incident. I am not changing the names of anyone because I am quite proud of the final disposition, and I think they all deserve credit for working through a difficult situation with grace.

It all started with several of us wanting to show our dogs at the AKC National in Orlando this year. Bedlingtons hosted a specialty, so I wanted to send 4 of my Bedlingtons and a class Basset, Suzie earned an NOHS invitation with her Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Jordan wanted to bring his Coon Hound, Afghan and Bedlington puppy, and Kelly wanted to bring three of his German Wirehaired Pointers. I also had to bring along a Bedlington puppy that was leaving for Korea from Florida. Kelly and I had planned to fly in and return home quickly because we both work in occupations that are crazy-busy that time of year. In my case things were even a little more difficult because the two people who would be driving down and back also work for my boarding kennel as a lead groomer and PlayCare Manager. That means my Sprinter van was going to have to transport 13 dogs, 7 of them requiring large crates, two people, and all supplies and belongings for a week on the road. And my boarding kennel would be short-staffed for the week ending just before Christmas. It was a recipe for tension and frayed nerves.

The week actually started with all of us showing dogs in Rosemont outside of Chicago. At that point the van only transported 4 Bedlingtons, a Basset, a WPG, an Afghan and a Coon Hound. Those dogs could all fit in my stationary crates plus a 200 and a 300. I brought 2 more Bedlingtons on Sunday, and Kelly’s friend brought the 3 GWPs for him to show for the weekend.

This is where the problems started. I had suggested that Jordan, who comes from Arizona, use a couple of the nicer winter days the 2 weeks before his departure, and load correct-sized crates into the van to make sure everything would fit. I reminded him that he made a commitment to transport Kelly’s dogs, and I made a commitment to get Suzie and her dog to Florida, and those two commitments would take precedence over our entries. Arizona residents don’t really understand that in the upper Midwest weather must be factored into daily chores, and we all follow it closely, especially in winter. In his typical good-weather 23-year-old thinking, Jordan left the van logistics to the very last day before he left for Chicago. His young optimism assured him he would be able to get everything in—except that he didn’t have everything that was going to Florida when he left Wisconsin. The weather had finally turned into winter, and he didn’t want to spend much time in it (who does). He wasn’t really thinking about the additional 5 dogs that would be arriving on Sunday, and he certainly wasn’t planning for the additional crates that Kelly needed for his hotel room, or the suitcase Kelly wanted him to take rather than pay Frontier’s exorbitant bag fees. In his haste to pack, he also misplaced eye medication that one of the Bedlington puppies needed every day.

On Sunday things started to deteriorate rapidly. That’s when I found out the puppy did not have his medication, and the substitute Jordan used was doing the opposite of what it needed to do. He didn’t tell me he had lost the medication so I could bring more when I came down on Sunday. The dog was going to have to go through 3 days without proper medication, and that could cost him an eye. I could bring it along when I flew in, but a simple phone call could have had it available 2 days earlier. To me nothing is more important than the long-term health of the dogs we show, and Jordan’s fear of a reprimand was putting that puppy’s eyesight in danger. I was angry.

Then came the project of loading the van. Fortunately, we were able to drive the van into the building, out of the winter weather. But that still didn’t change the logistics. Instead of 3 wire 400 crates, Kelly had plastic 500 crates, plus the three wire fold-up crates for his room. He also brought a large suitcase Jordan had not accounted for. As hard as they tried, there was no way all 13 dogs and their equipment would fit into that van. Somebody was going to have to stay home. I told Jordan it was going to be one of his dogs because he was the one who did not get all of the information in advance and layout the van before he left or made the commitment to Kelly. Lesson learned the hard way. He chose to send the Afghan home to Wisconsin with me that night.

Both Kelly and I flew out the next day while Jordan and Suzie made the 19-hour drive. As it turned out, we all arrived at the Expo Center about an hour before the building closed. Jordan, Kelly and Suzie had already unloaded most of the van when I arrived. They were beyond exhausted, so they left for their hotel to get some sleep, and I walked back to my hotel. I had arranged for 2 rooms at one of the LaQuinta hotels, and had left my credit card on file to pay for Jordan and Suzie. But an hour after I got back to my room, the phone rang, and it was Kelly asking if they could stay at the other LaQuinta that was about a mile closer to the expo center. I didn’t care. My only concern was that my card would not be charged for 2 extra nights, and Kelly assured me that would not happen. However, what I didn’t know was that the new hotel had to have a physical card on file. Another logistical conundrum. The hotel agreed to let Jordan and Suzie stay there, but they would need the actual card the next day. I wondered why it was important to be a mile closer when they were driving, but I was too tired to have that discussion. Later I found out that the original hotel I booked was nicer with much better amenities, but that was no longer my problem.

The week was exhausting, as those shows always are. Kelly was set up with another handler, and we were set up next to Kellie Miller who handles a Basset and a Bedlington for me. It was a good space—right across from restrooms, and about 30 feet from food vendors, but it was about as far away from our dogs’ rings as it could get. I needed to attend a delegate meeting one day and helped to judge the Meet-The-Breed Booths another day. Jordan and Suzie exercised and fed the dogs and helped to get the Bedlingtons put together every day. Kellie and her assistant helped where they could, and the week ran fairly smoothly. We did our share of winning and losing. By the time we were ready to go home, everyone was exhausted and cranky. Jordan and Suzie were facing a 21-hour drive home, so they were in no hurry to leave the warm weather, knowing they were driving back to winter with 12 dogs. Kelly had brought his equipment and dogs over to our set-up, then left to have dinner with his mother.

As we started to load the van I asked Jordan where Kelly was, and he told me Kelly had left with his mother about 2 hours earlier. The three of us began packing up the van as exhaustion set in. I told Jordan to find out if Kelly was coming back to help load his dogs and equipment, and Jordan sent a text. About an hour later he got a response. No, Kelly was going back to the hotel because he had to be up at 3:00 am to fly back home to work a full day. That was unacceptable to me since I was also flying back early to a full day of work, and Jordan and Suzie had 2 long days of driving ahead of them. The least Kelly could do was help load his stuff into the van. I called Kelly to tell him this, and the discussion escalated to a shouting match. At that point I told Kelly that if he didn’t come to load his belongings into the van, I planned to leave them in the building, though we would make sure his dogs were safely transported. I told him it was not fair to expect Jordan and Suzie to do that work since they had only agreed to transport the dogs, not load and unload everything for him. Kelly was furious that the loading had not occurred earlier while he was still at the building. He had already offered to help, but things were moving too slowly, and he left. I did not back down, and he said he was coming right over, and we would “discuss” this further. He arrived about 10 minutes later, madder than a hornet’s nest.

We were literally in each other’s face, yelling about how thoughtless the other person was being. Kellie Miller, whose van was fully loaded at that point, drove up to make sure nobody got too carried away, and she watched as Kelly and I “discussed.” At one point I pushed on Kelly’s shoulder to get him out of the way of on-coming traffic, and he could have taken that as a sign of aggression, but he did not. Jordan and Suzie just kept loading, and by the time Kelly decided to stop yelling and finish loading his stuff, Suzie had most of it already loaded into the van. Kelly stormed off back to the hotel, Jordan and Suzie drove back to their hotel to get some badly needed sleep, and Kellie and I went to dinner. We talked a little about the exchange, and Kellie told me she actually admired Kelly for coming back and speaking his mind. I had to agree. Sometimes the words need to come out in person, not behind the safety of a keyboard. Sometimes a verbal confrontation where both parties speak openly is cathartic for both. That was the beginning of coming to terms with the conflict, and it was the beginning of healing a torn relationship. I needed to hear Kellie’s spin. Without suggesting that I was right or wrong, she said she admired the courage it took for Kelly to come back and confront me in person. Kelly was not “the enemy”, just an exhausted, angry friend.

The rest of the story came about three weeks later. What I haven’t told you is that in addition to being a good handler, Kelly is an amazingly talented hairdresser (that I go to), and I have known him since he was in Juniors with my daughter. So I spent the next three weeks stressing about whether I needed to find another hair professional, or if I just needed to suck it up and make the appointment with Kelly. Most of my friends suggested that sucking it up was a far better option than losing a talented hairdresser. Apologizing is much easier than finding real talent. I was just about ready to do that when I found out my Dad had died, and I had to go to Arizona for his funeral. As fate would have it, one of the people I saw at the dog show the weekend after I got back from Arizona was Kelly, who gave me a hug and told me how sorry he was about losing my Dad—and that little “discussion” we had was in the past and needed to be forgotten. I made a hair appointment for the next week.

We talked about our Florida exchange at the haircut visit. Kelly admitted it was not his finest moment, and we both admitted how stressful the week had been, and how that had contributed to the problem. Emotions were high, and tempers had flared. Neither one of us was going to be in a hurry to enter the show next year. I think Jordan was pleasantly surprised that I was as willing to defend him when I thought he was right as I was to reprimand when he did something I didn’t like. He also learned the value of clarifying all terms of an agreement before it is final, and getting an earlier start on working out logistics. And everybody appreciated the peacekeeping efforts of Suzie, who behind the scenes worked to calm everybody down by pointing out the good traits she found in each of us. Kellie’s immediate positive spin on Kelly’s behavior defused escalation at the beginning. Everyone kept the conflict quiet until it was resolved, and no one resorted to being a keyboard cowboy. Through it all we learned a lot about each other, and a lot about how to resolve conflict in a way that benefits rather than destroys. We turned what could have been a relationship destroyer into a relationship building exercise.

I love, love, love working with adults. I have never understood why anyone would want to remain a child locked in a world of game-playing and confusion, hurt feelings, fear and anger. I much prefer adulting. My inner adult doesn’t want all that drama. I’m content to listen to her. 

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