The biggest problem with conflict is the perception of it.
It is so often seen as a challenge that teams have to deal with; something negative that must be avoided at all costs. But that’s just not realistic. Conflict will happen and we should be open to it and learn from it.
Confllict in the workplace
I have spent many years working with a business coach who has explained to me that it’s not conflict that is the bad thing but the emotions and behaviours that surround it; in other words, the personas that we adopt when confronted with the situation.
Let me explain. The person who started the conflict is seen as the persecutor, the person on the receiving end is perceived as the victim and there is always the third, the rescuer. This is the person who sweeps in and consoles the victim and points out the bad behaviour of the persecutor. The tendency, as a manager in a conflict situation, is to be the rescuer and that, unfortunately, is exactly the wrong thing to do. It encourages disharmony and divide rather than unity.
I always try to approach conflict impartially by listening to both parties individually and non-partially. I ask both parties to look at the subject of the disagreement in the third person. To take out the “I” and “you” away from the conversation but look at the subject of the difference as “it”.
Then, as moderator, I identify what I see as the subject of the conflict and get both parties to agree.
Finally and together, we “put that subject on the table” and examine it, we listen to the other person’s point of view on that subject but outside of them personally. This often unifies both parties in solving the problem rather than pointing the finger at each other
I have used this simple tool for years and it has worked to relieve the tension and focus the team on goals and solutions. Conflict can be positive and this is the first step.
Author: Rebecca Oatley is the Managing Director and Owner of Cherish PR