Conflict is not fun, especially at work. If you have a conflict with your family, you can probably yell at them without major repercussions. If you yell at people you work with, you will probably lose your job or least jeopardize your place in the organization. Like I said, conflict is not fun.
I think that there are generally two responses to conflict. The first is to ignore the conflict. This is a classic technique. If I ignore the problem, then it will go away. The difficulty is that the problem does not go away. In fact, it often gets worse. The issue is not solved which can have negative consequences. Additionally, you – as the frustrated person – continue to be frustrated which can lead to bitterness. This method of handling conflict is not good.
This brings us to the second method of dealing with conflict: respond to it head on. I recently read a very interesting article that suggested that we should have more conflict at work. I encourage you to check it out here. The article explains that only by addressing conflict are we able to improve ourselves and our business. So, if the solution is addressing conflict and yelling is not a good method, how does one address conflict at work?
This is where our class Navigating Tough Moments comes in. The whole purpose of this class is giving communication tools so that you can manage conflict at work. I recently had an opportunity to attend this class. Two points jumped out at me as being important attitudes to productively manage conflict. There are actually five key points mentioned in the class, but I don’t want to spoil the rest of the content.
Unconditional Positive Regard. Sinikka does a great job of explaining this (read more here in one of our previous newsletters) and I’m going to dive deeper in a blog post that focuses on this concept, so I won’t be very detailed here, but here’s the jist. Unconditional positive regard means that you look on the person or people you are in conflict with as another human being who has value simply because they are human. It means that you give them the benefit of the doubt. Basically, it assumes that the other person or people are trying to do good. This is critical because it makes conflict easier to resolve. If I believe someone I am mad at is just a jerk who won’t change, a conversation about our conflict will not go well. However, if I believe they didn’t mean to come across as a jerk, there is a good chance the conflict will be resolved.
Common Ground. What this means is that you and the person have something you can agree on. Most of the time, both parties want a similar outcome. Find the common ground. That is a safe place to start a conversation from.
These two concepts could have been useful for the organization I was working with a few weeks ago. I was working as a stage hand for a dance recital. Tensions were high. The stage manager and one (if not more) of the dance teachers were having conflict. They disagreed about the use of the headset and how the show should be called. Unfortunately, neither party attempted to reconcile. I think that adopting these two attitudes could have lessened the tensions, if not solved the problem.
First, the stage manager and the dance teacher need to look on each other with unconditional positive regard. There is often a divide between stage people and non-stage people. This can lead to animosity. However, if the teacher and stage manager had used unconditional positive regard they might have realized that the other is just as stressed as they are. They could have looked past their differences to see another human who is doing their best.
This leads right into the common ground they had. Both people wanted to have an excellent dance recital. Neither person wanted to mess it up for the other. It seems to me, like they have a lot of common ground. This would have been a great place to start a conversation about what each person wanted.
Maybe you have had a conflict at work in the past. Maybe you have one right now. These two attitudes can go a long way to helping you resolve the conflict. Good luck! Connect on our Facebook and LinkedIn page for more tips