How To Resolve Conflict At Work
The Missing Skill
Friction at work is probably the number one hidden cost of business. Friction is mostly created by one of two causes :
Communication issues due to different personality types: When two different characters need to interact with each other, they read the words and actions of one another in different ways, often resulting in resentment and conflict. They have different triggers, motivators, and values, and simply don't know how to communicate with each other.
Behaviors: In the day-to-day life at the office, pressures are high. Every behaviour shown and action taken by someone is motivated by something. And it is not always clear and transparent to others. Lacking this clarity, we interpret the actions of others and judge those based on our own values, morality, goals and aspirations. Many of those actions that others are taking feel "wrong or misguided" to us. Our instinctive reaction is to respond in kind. For example, your finance department rejects your investment plan in a 1-liner email, pretty much just saying 'no'. You have no idea why they rejected your plan, you feel disrespected by the rudeness of the short reply and you feel the people working there don't care about neither the health of the company, nor about you personally. How likely is it that next time they want something from you, that you go the extra mile for "THEM"?
Associates can waste days and weeks, in some cases even years focusing too much energy on battling with each other, instead of turning their energy into productivity.
In this article, we will have a look at FRICTION CAUSED BY BEHAVIOURS. We will show it happens that we end up going to war with someone or a group of people at work, followed by a 6-step guideline on what you need to do in order to resolve the conflict.
It’s easy to get drawn into feeling resentment for the other person, isn’t it?
Do you recognize one of more of the following patterns, when you think of certain colleagues?
- They never deliver on time
- They drive their own agenda
- They don’t respect your needs
- They sabotage your plans
- They speak behind your back
- They don’t do what they said they would do
- They don’t commit to anything
- They just don’t get it
- They always find excuses not to help you
And how does that make you feel? Perhaps like any of those patterns below?
- I feel I deserve more respect
- I feel the other person is not capable
- I feel like the other person is fighting me although my behaviour is professional
- I feel anger each time they talk, because I know they are not telling the truth
- I feel like I am the doormat for the other person
- I feel completely misunderstood
- I feel contempt because I already know they will not deliver
- I feel contempt because of their incompetence
- I feel not properly credited for my part in this
- I feel less valuable at work than my peers
And so it begins
What then happens is that we start seeing the other one as an object, rather than a person. What that means is that we forget that the other counts just as much as we do. They become an adversary, against which actions seem justified to stop what’s happening. WE feel justified.
Consequently, depending on our own personality, we choose one of two ways: either, we feel superior to the other, and have feelings of “I deserve…”, like, I deserve respect, or an apology, or more power, etc…
Or, we start feeling inferior and have feelings like “I need to be seen as”: I need to be seen as decisive, or funny, or hardworking, or never making mistakes etc…
Depending on which way we choose, this will determine our actions towards the other person. For example, in case we feel superior in some way to the other, we may do everything in our power (probably subconsciously) to let the other person experience our superiority. The other person has not been nice to me, so next time they want something from me, I let them wait. I de-prioritize their needs. I will not be welcoming and kind.
Now look at this: If you observe someone behaving like this to you, what happens inside of you? Right, YOUR previous behaviours seem justified! The other person has just given you yet another proof that they are worth less than you in some way.
But at work, things get much worse, and that’s where the true productivity danger lies: Imagine you are new in a company or in a new department. Chances are very high that other people will attempt to draw you into THEIR conflict with another person or department. They will tell you about all the unacceptable behaviours that the others have displayed in the past. You will hear how they disrespect our work. They will show you proof. You will hear how they don’t care about anything other than their personal gain.
Hear this side of the story long enough, and you will realize it’s JUSTIFIED to start taking sides, so you join the battle against the other. Classic war tactic: build alliances, get stronger together, then defeat the opponent. That’s why you join in. The others are clearly enemies and we’re the good guys. Interestingly, you may start to feel morally superior, although you have never had a single interaction with them yourself so far. Even more interestingly, oftentimes you will be unable to find a person who can tell you how it all began!
… meanwhile, an important project gets stuck and is going nowhere. The company is spending insane amounts of money to pay two teams for maintaining their conflict. If you’re part of a large corporation, we’re easily talking millions!
As you can see, this is a kind of vicious circle. But as most vicious circles, this one can be broken, too. It requires us to understand a few more things. Here is the
Recipe for resolving conflict
- Recognize that we have feelings towards someone that makes you think they are worth less (or more) than you, and that makes you objectify them internally. If you feel different towards someone in a negative way, versus how you feel towards someone else with whom a relationship feels good, you have probably been caught in a story about them that justifies a fight of some sort
- Make an effort to humanize the other person again in your mind. Even if you don’t understand them yet, start with the benefit of the doubt.
- Build a relationship with the other person you are in conflict with. You may have to build relationships with others first, who have influence over the person in question.
- Now comes an interesting part: Listen and Learn. Now that your heart is no longer at war with the other, you will be open to understanding them better. Their needs. Their hopes. Their feelings. Their goals. Their motivations. And the truly interesting part is, that until that has happened, you cannot be fully sure if it is just the other person who needs to change. Chances are, you need to change, too: your communication, your way of doing things and maybe even your business strategy.
- Once we have reached this point, as we understand the other person on a much deeper level, and we’re no longer at war, we are practically compelled to take action. We are taking action because the humanity of others compels us to not only see them differently, but also treat them differently. Maybe you say I’m sorry, or you give the help that you previously denied, or you correct your own path.
- Only then - and perhaps with a different point of view than before - YOU clearly communicate what you want, what you need and what you would like to do, and most importantly, WHY.
THIS is how conflict is resolved. It’s replaced with cooperation instead of adversity. It stops the multiplication effect of people at war with each other, who are building alliances that make everything worse.
Acquiring the skills to resolve conflict is not only good for you personally. It’s also a complete game changer for companies. One that you should start offering and implementing as soon as possible.