Conflict: Could we call it something different?

Could we call it something different?’ … is a very common response we hear from managers when we talk to them about delivering conflict management training.

The word ‘Conflict’ evokes a very negative reaction in many people and is perceived as ‘bad’, an issue not to be discussed. Sometimes managers claim, ‘we don’t have conflict here’! In your experience, how many places have you worked where conflict didn’t exist? Luckily, most employers and managers do see the need to provide training in this area, but can question whether the use of the term ‘conflict’ will ‘put people off’!

Yet, when asked ‘how does conflict affect your workplace?’, everybody will immediately be able to tell you. ‘It stops you from discussing things’, ‘you stop trying’, ‘there’s an underlying bad atmosphere’, ‘it’s always on your mind’, ‘I feel sick coming to work’, ‘it’s so disappointing – we could do so much better’….

We are not always comfortable talking about conflict especially about how it relates to ourselves and our experience of conflict. Yet, conflict is inevitable in every relationship and therefore in every business and workplace. It cannot be avoided.

Not only can conflict NOT be avoided, we believe, it SHOULDN’T be. When managed effectively, conflict can be a positive force for growth in every company.

The underlying basis of all conflict is ‘perceived incompatibility’ which has its genesis in DIFFERENCE. When faced with difference we begin to experience discomfort, which increases proportionate to the extent of the difference perceived. At its worst, we can perceive difference as competing and incompatible with our interests or needs, leading to conflict. This provokes a strong emotional reaction in us such as anger, frustration, aggression, sadness, despair … It is because of this that most managers and leaders find conflict management so challenging.

However, once we learn the conflict management skills that enable us to sit comfortably with difference and ambiguity, we can work with it creatively. It can lead us to transform our previous perceptions and discover alternatives and new ways of solving our problems or responding to needs. To create solutions, we need to develop our perspective – this is the ultimate challenge of effective conflict management and the call to action to learn these skills and grow, as a leader, a manager and as an individual.

‘We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiquity.. – Pema Chodron

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