“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.” – Margaret Heffernan
Conflicts. I am not comfortable with it. If possible I would avoid it. That’s my personality. However, after years of working, I had developed another approach. At work, conflicts need to be dealt with quickly. This is to prevent, what could have been a minor issue from becoming a full-blown conflict where there are no winners, just losers. Conflicts can be toxic in any workplace environment. People will start to gossip, talk behind our backs, groups are formed, judgments are formed and verdicts decided upon. All this without actually knowing the truth.
What should we do with conflicts? It is uncomfortable. Most of the time, we are ill-equipped to handle it. The most obvious answer is to deal with it and work it out. Solve the matter and move on. However, the question is how?
“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”– William James.
The starting point is with you. Yes, you and not the other person. To start with, we need to be honest. Honest with ourselves as to what is the real reason behind the conflict. Is it personality differences? Is it hurt pride? Is it out of fear? Is it out of jealousy? Once you realise the reasons behind the conflict, you are now able to figure out options. To figure out your attitude, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the core issue? Focus on the issue to be solved. Am I holding on to my idea because I want it done it my way? Do I think of myself as the “loser” if I compromise? Is the fear of being “wrong” causing me to be fight? Find out the motive behind your attitude. There are always many approach to solving a problem, hence release the need to be right or the need to do it my way.
- What judgements or underlying beliefs am I holding onto that could be holding me back? We all have a set of underlying beliefs that will shape the way we think and how we perceive or interpret a situation. For example, if I have an underlying belief centered around hard work and therefore the need to work long hours. This will therefore cause me to perceive someone who works not as long as me, as someone who is lazy or not pulling his/her share of the weight. Let’s be open to the fact that different people work differently so long as the outcome is reached, not the way that it is achieved. Releasing the underlying beliefs can sometimes help you view situations in a different light.
- Am I open to different options and approaches? Be honest. If you are not, then it is safe to say that there is no point in wanting to solve a conflict. Conflicts cannot be resolved if people involved are not open to varying solutions.
If you have answered those questions and now know the issues, the underlying beliefs that you hold and am open to options, then we can proceed to the action steps.
- Set up a discussion. Discuss in an open and objective manner with regards to the issue, where the challenges are and willingness to move forward.
- Summarise and repeat what you hear. Listen to the issues, options, concerns and solutions and summarise or repeat what was said. This will help you do 2 things (1) help you to truly listen (2) demonstrate that you have listened and heard what was said. It will also provide clarity and opportunity to clarify if there were any misunderstanding or assumptions made.
- Agree on what you agree on and agree to disagree on those you don’t. Moving forward does not require perfect agreement. We don’t have to agree on everything. We just need to know what the disagreements are and know how to move forward. Agree on what is required to move the task or action ahead. In most cases, the disagreement comes from method of execution vs. the goal or desired outcome. Remember, there are more than one way to get to the destination.
- Commit to the course of action. Agree and be committed with it. Sometimes we just agree just to get out of a meeting but we know that this approach is not going to work as there is no agreement or commitment. There must be not just agreement but commitment to the course of action.
- Accountability. Ensure that there are accountabilities in place for all involved. A structure or process in place to track and keep everyone on track.
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Thomas Paine.