Embracing conflict in workplace

Embracing conflict in workplace
Masum Billah

Conflict means disagreement that is rampant in our familial, social, professional and citizen life. Conflict exists in any situation where facts, desires or fears pull or push colleagues against each other or in divergent directions. Every workplace is plagued with manipulative people who use emotion to create conflict in order to cover-up for their lack of substance. They are adept at using emotional tirades which often include crocodile tears, blame shifting, little lies, half-truths and other trite manipulations to get away with a total lack of substance. So, to go forward we need to resolute the conflict. A synonym for conflict resolution can be said as ‘shared problem-solving’.

As humans, we cannot avoid conflict. It must come but it is necessary to learn how to handle it and keep going. Learning to resolve it effectively, in a way that does not increase our stress levels, is, therefore, important for us. Personal or relational conflicts are usually about identity or self-image, or important aspects of a relationship such as loyalty, breach of confidence, perceived betrayal or lack of respect. Conflicts can arise at any time, so we need to develop conflict resolution skills.

Successful professionals have invented different conflicting resolution skills and assertiveness may be the most important of them. Taking things easily and positively means assertiveness. Trying to express things clearly and to remove the confusion and misunderstanding through open discussion also belong to this effort. We can listen to someone carefully and give attention to the problematic point and express our feeling and opinion. It will narrow the gap and repeatedly do and it will further develop a good relation removing the misunderstanding developed among the colleagues which led to conflicting situation.

When we sense or feel that a conflicting situation is fomenting, we need to identify its source and try to go deep into the source. The more we can go deep, the more we can find out its solution. It calls for our looking beyond the incident. The source of the conflict might be a minor problem that occurred months before, but the level of stress has grown to the point where the two parties have begun attacking each other personally instead of addressing the real problem.

Sometimes colleagues pretend that on the surface harmony prevails but, underneath conflict is going on. It can work where preserving a relationship is more important than dealing with the conflict right now, but is not useful if others feel the need to deal with the situation. Emotions are never good or bad, but simply appropriate or inappropriate, and it’s useful in managing conflict to help others recognize when emotions are inappropriate, and when it’s fine to express them. You will also find it helpful to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and support those involved to do the same. This skill we can be termed as empathy.

Those who have proper conflict resolution training understand how to diffuse the situation and reach an agreement that satisfies all parties. The first step in conflict resolution is to understand the various styles of conflict. The five styles of conflict include: Avoiding or withdrawing from a conflict requires no courage or consideration for the other party. By avoiding the conflict, we essentially pretend that it never happened or doesn’t exist. Some examples of avoidance or withdrawal include pretending there is nothing wrong, stonewalling or completely shutting down. Giving in or accommodating the other party requires a lot of cooperation and little courage. Basically, we agree to accommodate the other party by acknowledging and accepting his point of view or suggestion. This style might be viewed as letting the other party have his way. While this style can lead to making peace and moving forward, it can also lead to the accommodator feeling resentment toward the other party.

Compromising is a big step towards conflict resolution. Both courage and consideration are used when both parties look for common ground. You agree to negotiate larger points and let go of the smaller points; this style expedites the resolution process. Occasionally, the person compromising might use passive-aggressive tactics to mislead the other party. Collaboration plays a major role within conflict resolution and requires great courage and much consideration. Collaborating with the other party involves listening to their side, discussing areas of agreement and goals, and ensuring that all parties understand each other. Collaboration requires thinking creatively to resolve the problem without concessions. Collaborators are usually admired and well-respected. So, we can apply this technique when we are thrown into a situation of conflict.

We need to be able to view the problems and issues from multiple perspectives and possess strong problem-solving skills. Also important is the ability to empathize, meaning that we are able to perceive and understand the feelings and emotions of others. Active listening is another skill which is very important for us to resolve conflict. People in conflict need to tell their stories. If we make a hasty decision, at least one party will feel they haven’t been heard. Once an acceptable solution has been determined, however, management needs to move decisively to implement whatever changes are called for. When resolving a conflict, we also need to be able to control and manage our emotions; use and interpret nonverbal cues; and think critically and objectively. It’s also very important for us to have the willingness to concede something in exchange for an opposing party’s concession.

Another approach is to try to resolve our dispute all by yourselves, which is a technique called unilateral decision-making. We can act unilaterally in three different ways. We can attempt to force our will on the other party, forcing the other to yield to our position. We can do the opposite and yield to the will of another, letting him win the dispute.
We must remember that some level of conflict between team members is an unavoidable part of almost every workplace. Fortunately, many disagreements are minor and soon forgotten, and an effective manager recognizes when he or she can afford to simply overlook a conflict or rely on the parties to resolve it on their own. When resolved constructively, however, conflict can increase understanding of other persons’ viewpoints, build trust, and strengthen workplace relationships. Leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. Leadership is a full-contact sport, and if we cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion, we should not be in a leadership role. Conflict rarely resolves itself – in fact, conflict normally escalates if not dealt with proactively and properly.

The writer works for BRAC
Education Program

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