Despite the worn-out demands that the workplace is no place for “”personal feelings,” people bring all of their unresolved emotional baggage to work – and there is little we can do about that.
Outmoded collective beliefs that endure like – work life and personal life should be separate – speak to a lack of knowledge about the new science of emotions and human dynamics. People don’t stop being people just because they are at work. In over twenty years of our collective experience working with individuals and groups in the workplace, it’s safe to say that most organizations have little knowledge of how to manage conflict effectively in the workplace.
There are deep, historic reasons why business continues to manage conflict so poorly. Part of it has to do with the “legacy” of the organization as machine. People never did fit smoothly into the Frederick Taylor model of people as widgets. Their needs and emotions are sloppy and unpredictable and mess up the engine of production, right? All of these factors have undoubtedly contributed to the habitual ways organizations structure their management practices and policies. Conflict issues usually get relegated to HR or some other designated entity usually for remedial treatment.
Occasionally, an “enlightened” organization will provide workers with conflict resolution skills training – a good thing (for consultants like us – and we believe for the participants and the organization). Unfortunately, too often those interventions are not system-wide and do not address the structural roots that can trigger conflict within an organization or department. Consequently, individuals and managers are left to fend for themselves with varying levels of conflict awareness to resolve the inevitable issues that will arise in the process of work.
What’s Missing in the Conflict Equation?
One thing that has consistently emerged for us while working with people to increase their conflict management abilities is the persistent belief that there is a magic formula we can learn to resolve conflict. If there is one – we don’t know about it. There is no magic bullet!
Our experience has taught us that becoming more successful in responding to conflict requires rigorous self-awareness and the deepening of knowledge and skills at many levels. The tendency of many people we have worked with is to look outside of themselves for answers, which often includes futile fault-finding and blaming. There is an interesting saying within the mental health profession that goes: “Not everyone can be the patient.” Meaning – someone has to step up to the plate – regardless of the source/s of the conflict.
Becoming More Skillful in Managing Conflict – A Checklist
It’s our experience that concentrating and applying even one of these principles in responding to conflict will shift your outcomes. You will feel and see the difference, even if it is, at times, subtle. While you may not get instant or total resolution to every conflict, understand that you are creating a new process – and shedding a life long pattern of habits that keep producing the same outcomes and results.
Whether you are a leader, a co-worker, parent, friend, partner or spouse, becoming more familiar with what drives your responses to conflict will serve you and those around you. Ultimately, it is about how you respond to the many events that are outside of your control to “fix” that shapes conflict. The big fix is inside – HOW you think, feel and respond to those events is always your choice.
Thanks for reading,
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants
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