Conflict in workplace

Conflict is all around us. From the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed, we are involved in a ‘debate’ of some sort or the other. If you have a family, perhaps you are trying to get your kids ready for school and have to struggle to get them out of the house. On your way to work you may be ‘fighting’ traffic. At work you may have a boss who wants to know the status of everything you are working on every day and you have to ‘debate’ with him/her on the direction of a project. In short, you cannot avoid conflict.

With respect to corporate culture, some companies encourage avoiding conflict at all costs, and consider engineers who create ‘debate’ as not team friendly. On the other hand there are companies which promote conflict to bubble up the ‘best’ idea. In my mind neither approach is right. Conflict should not be promoted and it should be discouraged. Conflict will happen on its own. It cannot be managed, it can however be used as a learning opportunity without penalizing either parties involved in the conflict.

Vulnerability is an important part of trying to resolve a dispute. We often do not feel safe to say what we feel, being vulnerable refers to our ability to articulate our position without fear. We should not have to “hide” our position due to fear of retribution.

Ownership is another important aspect that helps in resolving conflict. This is the ability to understand my choices and my role that I played in this conflict. We cannot point a finger at someone else and blame them for everything.

Curiosity is the ability to genuinely listen to the other party. We should try to place ourselves in the shoes of the other party and figure out what they are trying to say to us. This is also known as ‘active listening’.

Acceptance is knowing that we have a role to play in the resolution. This is about embracing reality and letting go our desire to control the situation. We should understand that there is loss involved in conflict of ideas or thoughts that need to change to resolve conflict.

Boundaries is knowing what we are ok with and what we are not ok with. For instance, in a place of work we should keep things professional even in conflict. Cursing may not be acceptable or personal attacks.

Understanding that conflict is part and parcel of the human experience is the key to get a handle on it and to work with it, not avoid it.

Credit for this approach goes to Clair Canfield in Tedx.

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