By: Brenda Robinson
The challenge of unresolved conflict is the drain it places on our energy system. Our positive energy is displaced by negative energy resulting from unresolved issues, hurt feelings, fear of more conflict and resentment about the friction it creates. Our social behaviours are much better when things are going well – when we are all getting along – when we are able to resolve differences and disagreements. What can we do to minimize and diffuse the conflicts we face in the workplace?
It is easy to say that prevention is better and easier than intervention. However, once friction of unresolved conflict exists, we must use a skilled and reasoned approach to address it. Before a dispute or conflict breaks out, there is usually existence of a specific grievance and a general underlying background or history of discontent. If we can get the resolution focused on the specific grievance, our chances of a resolution are much enhanced.
Once the underlying discontent surfaces and becomes part of the issue, resolution is hindered to a large extent. Therefore, we want to be more proactive and anticipate the conflict before it grows and gets out of hand. When we sense friction or any level of discontent, we should address it immediately. Ask questions to achieve clarity or to increase understanding. We are all fairly intuitive – we know when people are unhappy. We should trust our intuition.
Understanding the causes of friction will give us a different perspective or ways to approach based on our intuition. Using descriptive words to check on the causes of conflict will generally open the door to clarity. For Example:
I thought I heard a tone of resentment in your voice.
When I talk to you, you seem to be distracted.
Some of the causes of friction are tied to personal vanities, preferences, grudges, quirks, moods and passions. We like things to “go our way” and be “done our way.” We tend to enter into feelings of conflict when things don’t “go our way.” Often we assume that people won’t understand or refuse to go our way. The friction is often ended when people engage in discussion about their preferences and/or moods etc. When they ask for understanding, it is amazing how often it can be achieved.
Other causes of friction include rumors, suspicion, uncertainty, insecurity and hearsay. These are usually accompanied by jealousy, envy, low self-esteem and manipulation. Again the key is in the clarification not only of the message, but also of the intention behind the message. Develop a healthy skepticism of all rumors and unsubstantiated information. Keep everyone up to date on new information, upcoming changes and future plans. The best way to prevent the sharing of rumors and gossip is to ensure that accurate information is shared quickly. Publish the truth (often in writing) before the rumor mill can get started.
Competition can be the cause of friction in many workplaces. It may be competing for power, position, promotion or even attention. When competition underlies a workgroup it causes friction between group members. Reducing the friction of competition takes a great deal of respect for the competition itself and the feelings of the other competitors. Pretending the competition does not exist only escalates the friction. Indeed, competition should be recognized for what it is and articulated as that. For example:
“We many be competing for the job – that doesn’t mean we have to be angry with each other.”
“Competition can be healthy as long as we don’t let it cause us to battle.”
Sometimes, a good leader (formal or informal) can challenge people to see the competition positively and work to get by it. However, the leader will need to be open and honest about why the competition exists and what is needed to move ahead. The workplace, like most sports activities needs competition. It also needs good winners and losers. When one wins the object of the competition, it is important to display grace and understanding. Again, not talking about winning and losing will only cause friction.
Impatience is probably the cause of a great deal of friction at work. Friction often occurs as a result differences in pace, response time and the achievement of clarity. Always remember the old philosophy:
“You can often overlook the kick of a mule when you consider the source.”
Patience is a virtue and a conundrum. It takes patience to be patient. However, sometimes we need to slow down our reactions and consider the source and clarify the intent. Reacting to a comment or perceived insult without seeking clarity may enhance conflict where it didn’t need to exist. Why do we assume to know intent? Check the content for intent before jumping to conclusions. Be patient with gathering correct information before reacting. Reaction instead of patient action usually adds to the conflict.
Sometimes workplace conflict requires a troubleshooter or mediator. It is important for the mediator to hear both side of the conflict completely before taking any action or making any decisions. Indeed, it is important to hear from all individuals who are involved or impacted by the conflict. A mediator must seek to find the common ground or common understanding on which to build some resolution. The mediator must work to set the wheels in motion for action. Getting the people in conflict out of the past and into the future is the most important step to take. A mediator will often use persistent, challenging questions such as:
“What are you willing to do to change this situation?”
“What steps can you take to move this ahead?”
“What action would you suggest to move this into a positive model?”
“What do you see a solution?
A mediator has to play an objective yet caring role. The mediator must constantly push for positive, active steps for resolution.
Blaming, judging and jumping to conclusions are often the cause of conflicts. Tolerance is another virtue that can reduce conflict and friction. Tolerance is the genuine effort and willingness to understand another person’s beliefs, practices and habits without taking them on as our own. Tolerance is accepting and celebrating differences as just that – differences. They need not be difficult or cause conflict.
When you increase your awareness and understanding of friction and conflict we can be better prepared to deal with it. Support conflict resolution with a positive attitude and clear, open communications. Deal with small issues when they are small. Move out of the past and into the future. We need to focus on solutions and increase our patience and tolerance. This will reduce the impact of the friction and conflict we experience.