How do you deal with conflict?
One of the truths about life, regardless of whether it is in our personal environments, workplace or elsewhere, is that conflict will occur. How you manage the conflict will determine whether it was a gift or not.
While few of us actively go out seeking conflict, and many of us endeavour to avoid it, the possibility of conflict showing up is ever present.
I was reminded of this several times in the past few weeks starting with an innocuous incident in a restaurant two weeks ago.
I was having lunch at a sushi restaurant with a friend when the person at the next table angrily summoned the server and told her the miso soup was not to his standard. His actual words were something to the effect, “This soup is cold. Don’t you people know what you doing? Is your chef an idiot? Take it away and kindly bring me a hot bowl of soup.”
His outburst was a simple illustration of how poorly many people deal with conflict.
When faced with conflict we are always presented with three – and only three – choices:
We can accept things the way they are.
We can escalate the matter.
We can exit the relationship.
Accepting things the way they are means just that, we are okay with the status quo. What it does mean is we are not bothered by it, it does not frustrate or annoy us nor will it have a negative impact on us.
What this doesn’t mean is that by remaining outwardly silent we are tearing ourselves apart on the inside.
Over the years I have worked within many organizations and have met with many people who have chosen to simply “suck it up,” and say or do nothing about the issues that are producing conflict in their lives. Needless to say, their stress levels never take a day off.
The second method of dealing with conflict is to escalate it. This means to take it to a level where earnest attempts will be made at seeking resolution. The preferred way of doing this is to directly approach those who are the cause of the conflict and share your concerns with them.
In most workplaces where I have worked as an outside consultant, this has not been the norm. Instead, normal practice seems to be to talk to everyone other than the person who is the cause of the conflict.
In other words, the method is to talk about people behind the backs, criticize them harshly and somehow (naively) believe that by so doing, their behaviour will change.
It sure would be great if that was how life worked, but sadly, that definitely has not been my experience. Reality dictates that it takes a certain amount of courage to initiate an awkward conversation, and it is always the preferred method if we are serious about seeking resolution.
There are many ways of doing this and perhaps further blogs can be devoted to optimal ways of escalation.
But this blog is really to share the story of how not knowing how best to approach conflict situations can lead to irreversible choices, which possibly could have been avoided, had some additional options been acted upon before taking extreme actions.
I had a chance meeting with “Jane” while waiting for a friend at a local Starbucks. Jane had long worked for a company in which I have completed three projects over several years. I certainly didn’t know her well but recall on a couple of occasions, engaging in a pleasant conversation in which she had described how much she enjoyed her job.
I had not seen her for a few years when she stopped by my table to say hello.
Jane told me she had quit her job six months earlier because she could no longer deal with a particular person who worked in her department.
This person had joined the company in a supervisory role and Jane reported to her. From the very first day they had, according to Jane, taken a strong dislike to each other which had steadily grown. Jane felt disrespected and unappreciated by her new boss and yet she was hesitant to go and meet with her and discuss how she felt.
Instead, over a one year period she allowed her feelings of distress to grow to the point where she became physically ill, and finally one day she calmly walked into her boss’s office, resigned and walked out.
By coincidence, I happen to know Jane’s former supervisor and called her later that day. I mentioned that I had run into one of her former employees and her response floored me.
She said, “I was so surprised when Jane quit. She was one of the best people I have working for me and I had no idea at all that she was so unhappy at work. I wish she had come to talk to me.”
Jane quit her job rather than engage in an awkward conversation. I’m not sure why she chose not to do so but I do know that her reluctance caused her to make a permanent decision and leave a job she really enjoyed.
There is a moral to the story. While not all conflicts can be resolved, most can, and almost all situations can be improved when our cards are laid face up on the table with full disclosure made to all.
As a coach, I always encourage my clients to take this approach. In fact we often spend time rehearsing until they are comfortable in the role they need to play during an awkward conversation.
Exiting a relationship is always an extreme measure and when accepting things the way they are is not an available option, it is always helpful to dig down deep and find the courage to face a difficult situation head-on and do everything possible to bring about peaceful and acceptable coexistence.
As a mediator, I have helped many achieve successful resolution which beat either of the other two options hands down every time.
We are born with some natural capacity, but effectively resolving conflict doesn’t appear to be one of them. If developing better relationships would enhance and bring you a more peaceful existence, let me help you get develop the skills to get there.
Till we read again.