Conflict, “A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one – a state of mind in which a person experiences a clash of opposing feelings or needs” – Oxford dictionary.
Coming into the latter half of my human resources major at university, I completed a course aimed at interpersonal conflict within a workplace – specifically, the triggers of conflict, conflict environments, and strategies for managing workplace conflict (including third party interventions). How can there be so much to know about conflict? Is it not just one party disagrees with another, resulting with impulses of behaviour?
In seminar one, a conflict was described “like a rain cloud, it builds up until it rains, and then it can either cause a flood or be beneficial for the land”. This is a simple way of viewing conflict – there are two sides: productive and destructive, and the outcome is dependent on the management approach adopted by the conflicting parties.
But why is conflict constantly avoided within a workplace? Even the word ‘conflict’ holds a negative connotation, affecting apprehension and fear.
Individuals who never experience conflict at the workplace are living in a dream world, blind to their surroundings, as 50% of workplace leaders are putting out fires and managing conflict on a daily basis. If a leader cannot recognise conflict to be productive and healthy for a workplace, are you the best person to be holding the leadership role?
Conflict is a natural process. When avoided, one is not fulfilled in their current situation or environment. Everyone, defined by culture, age, education or status, will manage conflict differently, with individual’s having a different tolerance of what they believe to be a successful conflict resolution. The ability to recognise conflict, understand the nature of conflict and identify what triggered conflict, will help in the resolution process.
How individuals view conflict depicts the shape and type of lens you wear, and it should be noted – lenses are malleable and open to manipulation – so the best leader will be one who has strong listening skills, can show empathy when appropriate and understand there are two sides to every story.
As it takes two to tango, it also takes two to resolve a conflict. Both parties will have to act competently within a trusting relationship for their power motivations to drive moves and counter moves in any interaction with conflict. Though when there is power in conflict, the capability of resolve can be manipulated, so it is important to hold a balance and not become too power hungry. To have a productive conflict, assertive communication is primary as individuals are more likely to grow and learn from the experience.
I have to admit, six months ago, I was the last person to engage in conflict behaviours, avoiding any thing confrontational. I preferred to back down, not raise my concerns and resolve the conflict internally. This had a huge effect on my emotions and confidence, I felt I was always battling with a solution to avoid conflict situations, rather than confronting the situation at hand – more times than not the ‘conflict’ could have been resolved with a simple discussion.
In my final class, I was asked to reflect on what I had learnt. Metaphorically, “conflict resistance is like quicksand, the more you struggle the deeper you get”. Resistance is futile in conflict, the more the parties use avoidance, unassertive and aggressive communication, and power to manipulate a scenario – the deeper the conflict’s complexity will be and the longer it will take to resolve and come to a mutual agreeance.
Now, I encourage conflict. Conflict represents an environment that is open to discussion, teamwork and problem-solving. Every workplace has flaws, work together to solve differences (if they may arise) and promote a healthy workplace environment. Crack the stigma associated with conflict – it is a natural process that represents a workplace of growth and development.
Chloe Lindsay – Graduate Consultant