Even though we seem to be witnessing a return of industrial action over the past while (LUAS commuters will vouch for that) it is still significantly diminished from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s when I grew up in Dublin. One of the possible reasons being that the number of workers in unions has reduced from 70% to about 30% in the last 30 years in Ireland.
Unfortunately, this does not mean that there is less disagreement. It means that conflict in the workplace is more about interpersonal disputes which mostly arise out of the fact that we are all generally quite poor at handling conflict, especially at management level. Research shows us that 8 out of 10 workers believe that their managers handle conflict badly – which often means that they do not handle it at all.
In light of that it must also be a matter of some concern for us that the appointed national representatives of our Parliament are in conflict over the formation of our next Government.
Effective conflict management requires adherence to constructive behaviors like
- Perspective Taking
- Creating Solutions
- Expressing Emotions
- Reaching Out
- Reflective Thinking
- Delaying Responding
The effect of using these types of behaviors is to keep the conflict in a cognitive task-focused idea- generating space. This kind of constructive conflict results in group creativity and productivity. It is not hurtful and is less likely to get out of control. It is positive and is the best form of conflict.
In Stephen Covey’s book The 3rd Alternative he talks about synergy – the natural principle that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Rather than going my way or your way, we take the path of synergy to higher and more productive results. You and I together are far greater than we are alone.
Wouldn’t it be something if all of us in positions of responsibility – politicians, leaders, union representatives, workers, and management – could be aware of our behaviors and the impact they have on others, and learn to default to constructive behaviors in order to leverage the opportunities that lie within every conflict situation?