How to Mindfully Manage Conflict in the Workplace
Ask yourself this question and be honest:
“When have I experienced conflict in the workplace and how did it impact me?” After reflecting, take some time to think about the negative lens you might have been viewing it through. While conflict in the workplace is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be negative.
The key is how it is managed, the approach that is taken and how you react.
– by Michelle Todd
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, conflict is:
“An active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles.”
Socially, we tend to view the word ‘conflict’ negatively and this can narrow our view on how positive, constructive conflict can be. Even the antonyms for conflict are generally negative.
So, my question is, how can we flip our negative perspective of conflict and create more respectful and inclusive experiences when engaging in and resolving it?
For this to be successful, we could consider conflict as just another individual’s perspectives, opinions, views and ideas. With the key being your ability to constructively navigate these differences delivering respectful and appropriate responses when you oppose a view or opinion, and most importantly, the ability to resolve discussions by ensuring that there are tangible actions and outcomes.
Respectful, yet diverse views in the workplace are critical to fostering relationships and building trust and rapport. I encourage you to look at some positives outcomes that have come about as a result of well managed conflict in the workplace – they’re amazing and something all organisations should strive for.
So, what next?
Your views, opinions and perspectives are yours alone and are unlikely to be identical to the person sitting next to you, the client that you are interacting with or interactions between your colleagues. Your experience, knowledge, biases (unconscious or otherwise) and the way you interact and respond to conflict defines how you’re likely to engage with and resolve conflict positively.
Here’s something to think about – when you have engaged in or seen conflict in a workplace setting in the past, what happened (was it respectful and constructive or otherwise), how was it managed, what was the outcome (was there an outcome)?
Your responses to those questions will inevitably influence how you approach conflict in the future.
So before charging full steam ahead, consider whether your experiences may cloud your view of the situation and instead focus on how you could approach the conflict in a respectful, constructive and meaningful way.
A key strategy here is to always focus on the big picture – what are you trying to resolve, what is the overall intent? This will help you stay focussed and on track when navigating any conflict and limit you approaching conflict purely based on your previous experience.
Your knowledge of the environment, individuals, topics and the desired outcome will often define your input and ability to engage constructively in conflict (although, there may be individuals who prefer engaging without having knowledge on a topic – each to their own).
By being aware of your surroundings, any external drivers or political machinations, will allow you to approach each situation on its individual merit-making you avoid a cookie-cutter approach each time you need to engage with and resolve conflict.
Let’s be honest – we can all reflect on times where our biases (unconscious or otherwise) have directly contributed to, caused or influenced our approach to conflict.
In any setting, you should consider how your biases are likely to influence how you may respond to something (or someone). Importantly, take time to reflect on whether your biases are directly contributing to, or escalating, further conflict and if so, think about how you can manage your interactions into the future.
How you respond to each situation is critical. Highly emotive topics may require you to take time to consider a measured response before bursting out of the gates at full speed.
Tone and body language are also critical. Make sure you listen actively to opinions and views. You will be surprised how conversations can be transformed by simply taking the time to listen objectively and without judgement. By doing so, this also gives you some time and space throughout discussions, allowing you to reflect before you respond.
This step is critical across all forms of communication – whether via email or face-to-face. Step back, reflect and then respond.
Remember the saying “you attract more bees with honey than vinegar.” That being said, don’t withhold your views or perspectives because it’s easier – lean into the discussion and voice your perspectives respectfully once you have had a chance to genuinely reflect.
Confidence in conflict is a cycle that feeds itself – your confidence allows you to support others to build theirs, which increases your team’s confidence and feeds your organisations overall confidence.
By engaging with and resolving conflict in the workplace in respectful ways, you not only build your own confidence (“I matter and so does my opinion”) but the confidence of your team (“our views matters and so do our opinions”) and organisation to do the same (“the organisation’s view matters and so do all opinions”).
If your experience with conflict is minimal or you lack the confidence to positively engage with conflict, there are some small things you could do:
- Spend time observing conflict in your workplace (you will be surprised where you find it)
- When you observe a respectful approach to conflict, consider how you would/can apply a similar approach through your own interactions
- Practice what approach/es work well for you
- Build upon the skills you develop yourself through each interaction (whether positive or negative), and
- Take time to reflect and do some introspection – what worked well and how could you have done it better? There is no silver bullet, what matters is your ability to continually evolve and grow.
If all the greatest ideas, solutions, and views already existed and had been explored – why are there still problems to solve?
By embracing difference and observing and respecting where there are differing perspectives, opinions, views or even solutions, creates an opportunity to re-define or explore situations, innovate or even change your/your team’s or your organisation’s perspective/s.
Embrace difference and engage constructively with conflict – you will be surprised with the results.