Like it or not, conflict is a part of business. This month I’ve partnered with Berry Kruijning from Crowning Communications to help us navigate some of our most vulnerable situations, conflict in the workplace. If you’ve got conflict this is a must read! Also check out Berry’s new product Little Upsides™ on her website.
1. Is conflict really as bad as we think or does it simply get a bad reputation?
Conflict in itself is not bad; we just think it is. The first thing we think of when we hear the word conflict is the energy draining, escalating interaction between two people who don’t get what they want. We often see conflict as a dead end street where nothing good and positive can come from. We associate it with frustration, yelling in anger and hopelessness. For most of us conflict is still about who is right and who is wrong.
Well, that is not what conflict is about. Conflict is nothing more than two parties having a difference in perspectives, goals or needs. Resolving conflict is simply the process of exploring these differences with each other and coming up with solutions to have conflicting needs met or goals reached so it works for both parties. We tend to look at what separates us in conflict. However, we always have something in common and looking for what that is, makes conflict resolution such a meaningful, constructive and healing process. It usually comes down to meeting basic human needs we all have: the need for acknowledgment, appreciation and understanding.
2. What good can come out of a conflict at work?
Conflict is normal within teams; teams need conflict to thrive and be effective. If everyone would have the same goal, the same perspectives and the same solutions, there would be no innovation and creativity in teams and organizations. Conflict between co-workers, if handled skillfully, can create more understanding, a more dynamic work relationship, or heal a damaged working relationship. Conflict is a normal and healthy part of our personal and professional life and it’s time that we embrace it.
3. What steps can business professionals take when they encounter a conflict in the workplace?
Conflict is a dynamic process with a beginning, middle and end. If we deal with conflict constructively early on, it might not even develop into a bigger issue. There are things we can do in the beginning, as soon as we feel a “pinch” with another person, something that doesn’t feel quite right. Find a good time to talk with the other person, when you are both calm and have some time. Be the first to reach out by acknowledging the importance of the relationship and that you want to work things out. Ask questions and listen for understanding the other person’s perspective on what is going on. Be very curious about how the other perceives the issue. Check your assumptions and find common needs such as the need for clear communication, appreciation or respect. Express your perspectives and needs. Ask for help from a third neutral person such as a manager or an external coach to facilitate your dialogue if the issue doesn’t get resolved.
4. We’ve all been there; what do you recommend to professionals who are emotionally charged up about an issue at work?
When emotions run high, it is best to take a time out and delay your response to the issue. Tell your co-worker that it is important for you to
resolve the issue and that you ‘ll get back to them in 10 minutes, or the next morning when you are calmer. Take time to reflect why you are emotionally charged about the issue. Remember that this is about the issue, not about the person. Ask yourself what personal value is challenged for you in the situation? How does the issue impact you and your relationship? Talk with someone else to explore these questions for yourself. Learn how to express your anger, to name it, instead of playing it out in situations like this.
5. What tips do you have to remove or reduce the emotion in order to respond appropriately?
Removing or reducing the emotion is sometimes challenging. When we don’t deal with our emotions, even at the workplace, our emotions will deal with us. We will fight, flight or freeze when an emotion comes up in our body. A key so success is to learn to express the emotion without getting caught up in it. Saying that you are angry and need a time out is much more constructive than kicking a garbage can and slamming the door on your way out. When we get emotional it shows up somewhere in our body. Taking a time out, going for a walk around the block or just shifting your body from seating to standing or vice versa helps clear things
6. How can leaders help resolve a situation when two people on their team are in conflict?
A leader, who is emotionally intelligent and skillful in conflict resolution, could take on the role of the third neutral person who helps two people talk with each other about their issues. I call this process the “Kitchen Table Approach to Conflict Resolution.” After having set some ground rules for communication and interaction, each person shares their perspective about what happened with the leader. He or she can then identify the most important issues that both people want to address and give the parties the opportunity to explore each issue together. It is important that the leader stays neutral by not engaging in the conflict or choosing sides, enforces the ground rules, and helps parties talk.
7. Is conflict a part of business or do some people eternally attract it while others seemingly bypass conflict?
Conflict is an inevitable part of life and business. We can choose, however, if we engage in a fight or not. We all know people who always seem to attract conflict. We call them “difficult people” and we encounter them everywhere. I don’t believe that there are difficult people. These are just people whose needs are not met. The strategies that they have chosen to meet those needs are conflicting with the strategies that we have chosen to meet our needs. It takes a skillful, emotionally intelligent person, to help these employees find out what it is that they need, and then help them find another, a more constructive strategy to meet that need. The person, who seemingly bypasses conflict knows, how to do this instinctively, knows himself or herself well, has learned conflict communication skills, is naturally curious and has developed sensitivity to other people’s needs.
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Thank you Berry for your tremendous insight. I will approach conflict in a new way with this insight. Admittedly I think I’ve been operating at the elementary level of win-lose, right-wrong for far too long. Onward and upward!
Don’t miss Berry’s Little Upsides™. I have a set of these and keep them handy on my desk as a reminder to shift my perspective from to time. Little Upsides™ are small cards with questions and tips that move you forward when feeling hopeless or stuck in conflict. Visit this page to order yours today (Psst…they make a great gift too). My favorite, “Treat conflict as a puzzle. What are you trying to solve together?”