A Better Understanding of Resolving Conflict at Work
AYL Podcast #6 Summary
HOW LEADERS FOCUS AND RESPOND IN CONFLICT SITUATIONS
Conflict is an interesting thing in the workplace. Sometimes even the smallest of situations can escalate into conflict even when appearing to be a pretty benign item. Many companies have a culture of high conflict in meetings or interactions. Some business cultures appear to be relatively calm, but no doubt have their moments of tension.
What happens when people are at what we might term as – butting heads? Or perhaps you witness the Win – Lose attitude with people around you. Or….you practise this behaviour yourself.
Is conflict a product of:
- the workplace culture?
- of leadership styles?
- of poor systems and processes?
- Trust issues?
- Personality clashes?
- Competition between departments/line of businesses
My answer would be a resounding YES….and many more!! However, when we really look at the conflict itself and the people involved….here in lies the secret as to how we focus our attention in a conflict situation and how we respond to the conflict at hand.
What’s interesting is that how we focus our attention and respond to the conflict can actually add to the conflict situation with absolutely zero intention of the individual who sets off the spark. Most of us are unaware that this is even happening if we are the catalyst. So….if we feed the conflict….or poor gasoline on the fire….does the conflict ever go away? This question is worth considering….. tendencies such as resentment, frustration, irritation, anger, anxiety, worry, fear may partially or fully derail relationships greatly impacting the activities and outcomes of those that need to work together to bring about business results.
Let me share a story with you in this regard: As always names and business descriptions are altered.
Sarah, a Director of Finance, worked for an exceedingly busy company with offices in many states. She was excellent in terms of putting into play processes and systems that made her department function exceedingly well. Given that one of the functions reporting to her was the payroll dept., you can understand how important accuracy and efficiency in this system was. Payroll errors are the one area where you don’t want to have mistakes! But…with a recent change…something went off the rails! Department heads were up in arms as they were confronted with numerous complaints from their individual workforces. Frustration and anger grew throughout the day….and eventually led to a meeting of all department heads and Sarah. These leaders tried to temper their anger to convey their concerned message to Sarah. Sarah was a Thinker….very analytical person, she was also a ready to take action kind of person. As Sarah was in the meeting the wheels of her intellect where going at Warp speed. She was working things out in her head as worried leaders spoke to her. Quite suddenly, Sarah thought she had the answer! If you had been sitting in the meeting watching her….you could readily see the light bulb in her head switch on. She leapt out of her chair…made a quick departure from the meeting and moved to action. What do you think might have gone on for the other leaders in the room that she just left?
Well…if you had said they were still in conflict…you would be correct….most of them were. Why would that happen? There are some very specific needs relative to our personality type that would not have been met with Sarah’s quick exit. Her ability to quickly problem solve and move right to action to try and solve the errors and rectify a bad situation, while of great value, still left many who felt like she did not listen to them….like she did not give any value to relationships in the room, like she was unfair by not staying and talking this out. A few, were able to move on pretty quickly…mainly those that matched Sarahs analytical style. How long do you think it might take for Sarah to regain those relationships….and do the relationship repair that was needed?
How do you focus in conflict – I suggest that you write down what is resonating with you as I speak to this……
The thinker or analytical person will put their attention on the following:
- What the conflict is about
- Opinions and principles
- Analyzing and tolerating differences
- Clear and spot on delivery
- Maintaining a firm and possibly unwavering stance
The feeling person, or one who tends to come from their heart will put their attention on the following:
- Who is involved
- Needs and values
- Accepting and appreciating differences
- Tactful delivery
- Ensuring give and take conversation or atmosphere
What is your inner experience relative to the conflict situation:
- For some it is challenges to or of trust
- For some it is challenges to or of authority
- For some it is challenges to or of beliefs
- For some it is challenges to or of values
What is the desired outcome that you want?
- For those that have trust concerns, it is a defined process or the ability to see progression
- For those that have authority concerns, it is complete resolution or closure
- For those that have beliefs concerns, it is intact relationships
- For those that have values concerns, it is respectful listening
I wish that I was able to speak with you individual here with regard to your responses. But….I am certain you can see how different our attention and reactions or responses are to the conflict of others in the room.
Let’s look back to Sarah again for a moment. What could she have done differently that would have left all in the room in a good place relative to the conflict at hand? If Sarah had taken the time to for open listening and further exploration, if she had taken the time to check in with each person as to how they were doing in terms of intact relationships, if she had taken the time to put forth her thoughts on a possible solution- things would have been much different. We can only hope that Sarah went to work to do relationship repair or she would have ongoing conflict to deal with and that is never productive. Let’s hope she didn’t remain blindsided as to how others saw this behaviour as that of an aggressive adversary.
Leaders need to grasp these conflict differences and understand the value in this awareness. How often does conflict play out in your workplace? Probably with a fairly high frequency. I have never worked in an organization, as an employee, as a leader or in my Executive Coaching role where I have not seen or heard of many conflict situations.
Questions for reflection:
- How do you show up at times of conflict?
- What do you believe others would say of your behaviours or tendencies at such times?
- How do you currently take care of the other leaders or employees in the room?
- What could you do differently knowing what you know now?
Leaders: Understanding Conflict in the Workplace