Conflict is unavoidable and a totally natural part of workplace relationships, but managing conflict does not have to involve raised voices and hurt feelings. Learning to accept conflict will make us receptive to its lessons, and better equip us to manage those situations when they arise.
What Conflict Can Teach Us
- We learn about others: When there’s a conflict, this usually means our viewpoint is being challenged. This can feel like an attack (see Strategy 1 below) or it can be accepted as an opportunity. Even when we strongly disagree with someone, we can take away valuable information from that disagreement.
- We learn about ourselves: How we respond when pressured is important to note. Conflict can take us by surprise. This is uncomfortable but it also offers us information about ourselves. We can assume all day about what we may or may not do. When anger and conflict arise, we have real-life answers to such hypothetical questions.
- We become exposed to new ideas: Yes, it is possible that the other person has a good idea. Accepting the reality of conflict is also a sign that you’re open-minded. When we manage conflict in a non-threatening way, we create space to learn.
- We practice communication skills: Communication is the bedrock of all interactions. During a conflict, we can lose control. One of the first casualties is often communication. We don’t listen. Our voices raise. Emotions overwhelm reason. Whether we like it or not, conflict is an excellent test of our communication skills.
- We grow and create emotional understanding and intimacy: Being open to grow and hear another person’s perspective that is different from ours expands our awareness, consciousness and education outside of our own perspective. This then gives opportunity for emotional understanding and intimacy. We don’t have to agree with someone, we just need to hear them and be curious enough to explore what that means and where we might find a bridge between two different perspectives.
5 Strategies For Managing Conflict in the Workplace
Strategy 1: Remove the word “attack” from the equation
When you are faced with conflict at work we must resist the urge to “counterattack.” That is a recipe for escalation. Start by not seeing every disagreement as an attack. Take a moment to recognize when you get this urge, and remind yourself to pause and evaluate the situation.
Strategy 2: Develop curiosity and flexibility
Above, we talked about the opportunities and lessons within each conflict. The curious version of you loves this. It’s a chance to peek at the world through someone else’s viewpoint. An excellent tactic when you are faced with conflict is to simply ask questions.
Strategy 3: Learn when to take a break
Not every conflict can or should be resolved on the spot. Sometimes the most useful step is a step away. Distance and time are often your friends when tempers flare.
Strategy 4: Understand power dynamics
Not all conflicts are created equal. In fact, very few are. Gender, skin colour, ethnicity, age, class status — these are just some of the dynamics at play. Factoring in such privilege adds much-needed context to managing conflict. If you’re at an unfair advantage, honour it. If you’re on the wrong end of power dynamics, bring it to everyone’s attention.
Strategy 5: Don’t let conflict take you by surprise
We study self-defence because we recognize that it’s good to be prepared. The same can be said for any type of conflict. Therefore, we must:
- Accept conflict as an inevitable part of life
- Develop skills and responses you can rely on
- Remain open to new situations and the challenges and lessons they provide
Sometimes you need a strategy to learn strategies!
Perhaps our parents didn’t model good examples of managing conflict. It might be that underlying emotional issues impact our ability to handle our differences. We all tell ourselves scary subconscious stories that may come from our earlier programming about what we think is happening even if there is nothing to actually support the story. There are so many ways that managing conflict can be a challenge.
Working with a counsellor puts us in position to unpack these obstacles, recognize our patterns and practice new skills. From the foundation of counselling, we can and will become adept at managing conflict at work, or even in our personal relationships. For those wanting to get straight to the root of their unconscious programming, we offer one-on-one counselling and neurofeedback options that can be done in-person for those in the Vancouver area, or over a video conference call.