Article by Gregory Limbe
Humanity is not a generally agreeable race; there is no denying this fact. Centuries of war, political strife, and power struggles at every level have both crippled and developed society, building whatever it is we are presented with today. While there are individuals, nay, countries that get along swimmingly, there will always be some form of conflict percolating in the background. A pot, if you will, simmering gently on the fire until you turn your back and it boils over, making a mess of everything. This eventually translates, albeit on a much smaller scale, to the workplace.
While workplace conflict is inevitable, it does not have to bring proceedings to a grinding halt. It is completely possible to have conflicting ideas within a conversation without it degenerating into a shouting match laced with profanity. Learning to express dissent without disregard for the other party’s point of view is a key step in the nigh mythical “conflict management”.
“…but conflict is bad.”
Well, yes and no. Negative conflict is bad: no one needs to spend every waking hour fighting everyone. However, there is this beautiful creature known as positive conflict. Here is an ideal, simplistic example: Imagine a scenario in which you disagree with a suggestion in a strategy meeting. After listening to your colleague, you repeat or build upon the points you agree with, then make your suggestion while explaining how it would complement their idea, or travel a different route to the target you’re both trying to reach. After this, be open to discourse to improve on your idea. The end. Positive conflict is in the bag.
The most important thing you did here was to listen. Interrupting your colleague communicates an unwillingness to listen to them, and that you believe whatever you have to say is of greater importance. Taking the time to discuss the merits of their point also shows that you considered and internalized what they said. This makes your co-worker more willing to listen to what you think because their opinion is clearly valued.
“That’s it? That’s easy!” It was indeed; why are we not all doing this? Simply because: like everything, the theory is harder than the practical. In the heat of the moment, we rarely stop to consider the salient points nestled in another individual’s sentences. We are quickly blinded by the giant “NO!” blazing before our eyes. We need to learn to slow our process and consider the fact that this happens to everyone; no one starts a sentence hoping to be interrupted and overwritten. At this point, we need to fall back on self-knowledge and self-awareness: by understanding your ways and patterns, it becomes a lot easier to temper your reaction to things you disagree with. Rather than focusing on a step-by-step process for conflict resolution, why not learn to curb destructive behavior so that conflict can be more productive? Responding effectively to uncomfortable/unavoidable challenges within the workplace will invariably improve relationships and results.
With the closeness brought about by improved workplace relationships, staff naturally begin to understand each other on a deeper level; learning which reactions to expect, which argument triggers to avoid, and improving synchronicity thus streamlining workflow. That feeling where everyone just “seems to gel” and everything seemingly falls into place. Going above and beyond
Now that we have taken this nice, and simplistic view of dealing with conflict on a personal level, we must also consider what lurks in the wilderness beyond the meeting room. Organizational culture is a scent that lingers on the cloak of every business. It is up to the leaders to smell good and to teach their teams how to remain fragrant. By fostering an environment where voicing dissent is welcomed, where ideas are discussed openly and
not tossed out the window, where every team member’s insight is considered equally valuable; then the great “conflict management” organically happens before it is needed.