September 15, 2014
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

Tony DiGiovanni My barber was proudly showing me pictures of his wife, children and grandchildren, as he warmly relayed stories about his 45-plus years of marriage.

He and his wife had met in their teenage years, and they still had an exceptionally strong bond. His demeanour suddenly changed and his enthusiasm shifted into tension, as he told me the only thing that could ruin his marriage was if his mother-in-law moved in. About three years ago, after 40 years of perceived mistreatment, the pent-up anger between him and his mother-in-law turned into an ugly confrontation.

The transparent conflict was causing an uneasy tension among all family members.  “The only way I will speak with her is if she apologizes,” he said. “And then, I will be ready to forgive but not forget.”   

While listening to his intense mother-in-law story, my mind reflected on an earlier conversation I had with a friend. My friend and I had been talking about conflict in the workplace and how toxic it could be. Something she said stuck in my head. Her mother had told her that when you are mistreated, you should “respond with kindness.” What a novel approach! I told the barber about this earlier conversation. He listened intently, and had a very interesting reaction.   

I wanted to explore the situation, so I asked some questions. “Do you think you can change your mother-in-law’s behaviour toward you?”  “Absolutely not,” he said.

“Is it possible that by your reaction, your mother-in-law has succeeded in bringing negativity to your 40 years of marriage and is causing you unwanted stress and anxiety?”
He did not answer, but I could see by his facial expressions that he was struggling with the concept.

In my mind, I was wondering who was hurting more, him or his mother-in-law.  Where would this struggle end?    

When my haircut was finished, he walked with me to the door. I could tell that the conversation had lightened his mood. I sincerely hope there is a reconciliation based on “responding with kindness.”    

I am sure everyone can relate to conflict situations.  We have probably all witnessed tension between employees, customers and other members.  Most of us have had experiences where we were the ones involved in the conflict.

In a previous job I felt mistreated by an associate. To me, he lied about something and had called my integrity into question. I did not confront, nor did I take any action. I simply ignored the situation.

Without realizing it, my passive-aggressive attitude had created a toxic atmosphere that influenced the way others were thinking and acting toward this person.

Although I could not change the attitude or actions of the individual who I perceived maligned me, I had the power to choose my response. The choice I made was to let the situation fester and negatively influence the workplace. When I realized this, I made another choice to sit down with the individual in the spirit of mutual respect and reconciliation. It turned out it was a big misunderstanding. This power to choose your response is a very profound and liberating concept.   

I also learned that communication and listening are difficult.

Conflict is part of life. We are all human and none of us are perfect. It is important for all of us to realize that we have the power to respond with kindness, respect, empathy and forgiveness.
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at