LOOK UP CONFLICT IN THE dictionary and you will read ‘a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one, to fight or contend; do battle, or struggle, especially a prolonged struggle; strife.’ Any wonder why many of us avoid it like the plague. Why would we actively step into situations where pain will be felt and feelings will be hurt? Tanja M Jones looks at the ways that we can create a more harmonious and productive workplace.
WE AVOID conflict because of our core desire to be liked, the pursuit of acceptance and the longing for stability in our lives.
It is often caused by our unconscious addiction to ‘being right’, by having a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude and the inability to see a situation from another person’s perspective.
Unresolved conflict has been linked to miscommunication resulting from confusion or a refusal to cooperate and it affects our level of creative collaboration, team problem-solving abilities and overall trust.
The individual and collective impacts of avoiding conflict are significant and should definitely not be ignored. They include:
- Compromised and strained communication which fosters negativity and erodes connection
- Reduced productivity, lack of clarity and poor decision-making ability
- Increased levels of stress and elevated risks of work cover claims
- Compromised customer experience which weakens brand value
- Reduced sales revenue and market share
- Increased cost of business due to fractured teams and inefficiencies
- Toxic air – a palpable negative energy in working environments
Here are eight ways leaders can avoid these impacts and turn conflict into clarity with ease:
- DEFINITION IS DECISIVE
How we choose to view something determines how we interact with it. Create an empowering context for conflict by defining it as ‘an opportunity for clarity’ rather than a painful win /lose situation. This is more positive and simply feels better. If truly believed, it will inspire you and your teams to get to the heart of what is going on and find a resolution for the greater good of all.
- BE RESPONSIBLE
When conflict arises check your response. Does it stir an aggressive response in you, a passive /victim response, or can you view conflict objectively in order to help others overcome their defensiveness? If you do not have control over your own reaction, you will be less able to help others.
- SEEK TO UNDERSTAND ANOTHER PERSON’S PERSPECTIVE BEFORE YOU PASS JUDGMENT
Keep an open mind and ‘get over there’ with them. This will give you a much deeper appreciation for where they are coming from. You might also learn something new about your business, identify skill gaps or even areas for improvement within organisational processes and procedures.
- GIVE THE GIFT OF LISTENING
When you are seeking to understand the perspectives of others, practise the Gift of Listening (which was featured in the July / August edition of Elite Agent Magazine). Be deeply present with others and when they finish speaking, simply respond with ’I hear you’. People don’t need fixing; they simply need to be heard. When people are truly heard they can then begin to step into finding solutions to the conflicts they are experiencing. Great leaders can hold a space for the answers to arise within others. This practice empowers your team and deepens the levels of individual ownership as a result.
- DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY
The biggest cause for upset is when we take things personally and as humans we do it all the time. You must consistently deconstruct ‘what happened’ from ‘what you make it mean’. Many conflicts are not actually based on reality. They are based on the decisions we made about others, a situation and ourselves. Always separate the facts from the feelings and focus simply on finding solutions together and improving practices.
- POSITIVE PREPARATION
Minimise reactive conflict resolution by articulating ‘how it’s done here’ upfront as part of your induction process. Gain agreement and alignment from your people from the beginning and create a culture where your core values will be followed and swiftly addressed if broken. Most importantly, as the leader, make sure you are a living, breathing embodiment of your values; otherwise you will swiftly lose any respect you may have earned from within your team.
- MAKE MISTAKES OKAY
Develop a working environment where it is safe to make mistakes; in fact, encourage it as this means you and your teams are ‘in the arena, giving life a good go’. If you are not making mistakes you are not learning; if you are not learning you are not growing. Share your learning in your weekly sales meetings for the betterment of everyone. Imagine adding ‘the best mistakes last week’ to your weekly agenda and having everyone feel celebrated as they share and learn from them. Learning from your mistakes helps drop egos and cultivates a light-hearted, safe space to evolve together. Equally, acknowledge where your team members are positively demonstrating the values of your business. Don’t just celebrate the sales results.
- HAVE ZERO TOLERANCE FOR GOSSIP
There are two types of conversations; we can either talk ‘about things and people’ or ‘for things and people.’ One erodes connection and the other builds connection. Great leaders know how to build connection and they do not engage in or allow low-level conversations that are personal, belittling or degrading to occur. Whether it is about team members, clients, stakeholders or industry professionals it should not exist, not even in a tongue-in-cheek kind of fashion. It’s good to have a laugh and it’s great to share a joke, but never at the expense of others.
Conflict avoidance can buy time; however the human and financial cost of conflict avoidance in the workplace can be significant and can end up costing you more money in the long run.