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Rank of “office too cold” among white collar employees’ most common workplace complaints: 1.
Rank of “office too hot”: 2.
(Harpers Index, Harpers Magazine)
Differences of perspective, ideas, values, wants, needs or feelings are normal and conflict need not in itself be a problem. What is important about conflict isn't so much what happens to us as how we respond to what happens.
But it is common for people to associate conflict with feeling unsafe - worried, frightened, anxious, alarmed or panicked - and when we experience these feelings, many defences can arise and create destructive, rather than constructive processes. Normally, these are one form or another of win-lose, lose-win or fight-flight thinking and behaviours. These are not positions of potency.
When a safe and constructive arena is set up to protect the process of examining and understanding differences, conflict can provide useful opportunities for greater self-awareness, knowledge or wisdom - and stronger relationships.
Safety may derive from one or more parties having the necessary competence and confidence; from involving a skilled third party to intervene or mediate constructively; or through personal support from a mentor or support-group behind-the-scenes. These are services we can provide: training, mentoring support and under some circumstances, mediation.
Why is conflict so often challenging?
Interpersonal conflict can produce flashback experiences of earlier life struggles that were not handled constructively. As a child you may have learned:
- To be overly risk-averse in differences with others.
- That conflict is dramatic, dangerous, involving hostility or long-term grudge-holding.
- How to make sure conflict becomes A Big Deal and A Serious Problem.
- Ways of emotionally incapacitating yourself around conflict.
- How to make another person's problem your own.
- How to make your own problem someone else's.
- How to be interpersonally incompetent around conflict.
- That, when faced with others' hostility, careful listening to them is unwise, unnecessary or impossible.
- That in a conflict, you are not worthy of respect - or that the other party is not.
- That whoever holds power or authority gets to choose and impose their solution.
Those early learning experiences and the accompanying attitudes and strong feelings remain powerfully influential reference-points. At times of smooth sailing, our self-esteem and competence may be high; but at other times, certain people, behaviours or issues can cause us to revert to incompetence, self-doubt and low self-esteem which have been stored away with the accompanying messages from our early experiences.
Unconsciously imposed on the present, they complicate prospects for understanding or resolution. Then, it becomes easy to focus on and magnify the differences between people, and to become blind to goodwill, benign intentions or the possibility of common ground. This can isolate us, and exacerbate anxiety and defensiveness, especially in situations of high-level or extreme conflict. We may engage in thoroughly inappropriate behaviours even though we know better and actually prefer to act from a basis of fairness, respect and maturity.
When we do revert in those ways, our perception of the raw data of conflict (in itself, neutral) is likely to be labeled "bad" and we are likely to react, rather than respond to the situation. We may have a present-day code of behaviour that is soundly-based, quite clear and frequently in our consciousness. But the other code, learned in formative years has been there longer, is more deeply embedded in the sub-conscious and can often determine our actions more powerfully, especially in situations where there is little time to think and plan.
To behave more constructively, requires more than mechanical skill: our perception will first need to be changed.
EncourageMentors can help you:
- Gain insights into the background, attitudinal bases and usefulness of the behaviours you engage in when confronted with conflict.
- Reduce the time it takes you to recover from the shock of unexpected conflict or the fear of anticipated conflict, and regain your equilibrium.
- Discover and make use of the attitudinal issues and practical techniques necessary to implement an equitable, "no-lose" approach to conflict.
- Strengthen behaviours that reduce the levels and incidence of destructive conflict.
- Isolate and lessen behaviours and attitudes that create or inflame unnecessary or destructive conflict.
- Reduce unpleasantness and demonstrate respect, equally of yourself and the other party, and bring about understanding.
- Observe the interpersonal communication process while you are engaged in it, to enable effective choices about your own communication mode.
- Assist others who are in conflict with you to express themselves clearly and discover the benefits of a "no-lose" approach.
- Experience conflict as an opportunity for new learning, growth and improved relationships, rather than as a threatening, dangerous or destructive activity.
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