Conflict is a daily occurrence in all areas of life. No one is exempt. No relationship is without it. I believe even a human and his or her clone would manage to find strong differences of perception, perspective or values!
Writing about disputes makes good copy. Just check your local newspaper or late-night news program. Who is doing what to whom IS the news! The more horrific, the better, it seems. It’s the stuff gossip is made of, as well.
Theoretically, the parties involved have many ways to respond to or resolve their conflicts. In actuality, three prevail: avoidance, withholding and violence. All three do nothing to turn the confrontation into communication. In fact, they are guaranteed to do just the opposite.
If I don’t say anything, there will be no conflict. Not so, your breath gets short, your stomach churns and your shoulders live permanently at your earlobes. The conflict has not disappear-ed. You are wearing it! And, suffering.
Certainly, there are times when avoidance works. Everyone occasionally has a bad day. That is a good time to use avoidance. The problem is short-lived. Most people know what caused it. They care enough about the person to stay out of their way for a day or so. Wise choice. It’s best to avoid them.
If they have more bad than good days, though, it needs to be talked about. Exerting control over others in your environment by expecting them to adjust to your bad moods is tyranny.
Avoiders often appear to be compliant and accepting. They smile. They cooperate. They rock no boats. Inwardly, they are seething. If they have low self-esteem, they may even blame themselves for their inability to ‘get along’ with the tyrant. Not so! They need practical skills for expressing their points of view.
If you are using avoidance as your primary conflict management strategy, how is it working for you? How’s your health? Your level of frustration? Your self-esteem? Your self-confidence? Conflict management skills are learned. Either you use the ones you’ve learned by watching your family, or you use the ones you grew up with. All learned. So, wouldn’t it be wise to learn constructive, useful, effective ones instead?
Withholding takes place when you do not want to address the conflict but you want another person to know you are angry, upset or disappointed. You simply do not give the person what they want or need. You ignore them when they speak, or, purposefully misunderstand them. You do the minimum required, less than your capability. The ‘silent treatment’ is a form of withholding, too. You refuse to speak to the person with whom you have the conflict or unmet need.
Does this work? Perhaps it gets you the response you want in the short-term, however, in the long-term it fails miserably…especially in the workplace. All it does there is escalate the conflict. You’ve noticed that, I’m sure.
Another form of withholding is triangulating—a descriptive term which means not being direct with the person with whom you have the dispute but attempting to go through a third person. The thing with disputes, com-plaints and gripes is that you have to tell someone who can actually do something about it. Otherwise, it can be simply gossip and venting. You have to be careful. Your reputation is on the line…and your job may be as well.
In the workplace, you may have a supervisor who is willing and trained to help. No matter what, though, any employer or supervisor would be much happier to have you work out differences yourself. That requires skill, and, fortunately, those skills can be learned.
Each year between 1992 and 1996 more than 2 million U.S. citizens were victims of a violent crime while at work or on duty…and the largest number of those were in retail sales. Isn’t that startling? The good news is that violent crimes have declined since 1993. There are still far too many.
The Canadian Center for Occupational Health & Safety defines workplace violence as “…any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment. Workplace violence includes:
- threatening behaviour such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects;
- verbal or written threats – any expression of an intent to inflict harm;
- harassment – any behavior that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or verbally abuses a person and that is known or would be expected to be unwelcome. This includes words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, or other inappropriate activities.
- verbal abuse – swearing, insults or condescending language.
- physical attacks – hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking.
Many state governments and corporations have strongly-worded policies regarding workplace violence. According to an American Society of Industrial Security survey, the top strategy indicated by respondents for preventing workplace violence is ’employee training.’
As a conflict management expert, I agree. Proactive companies are ones who understand the high cost of conflict in the workplace on a day-to-day basis. When I offer training in conflict and anger management, negotiation, mediation and communication, executives and their staffs learn and practice the skills they need to feel competent, confident and, yes, comfortable enough to handle conflict effectively. And as a bonus, the training affects the quality of life for each person in all situations. Happier, healthier employees = Greater productivity. Not rocket science!
A ‘zero tolerance’ policy is imperative for every single workplace. Nothing less should be tolerated. Violence is simply unacceptable. We need to feel…and be…safe at work.
© Rhoberta Shaler, PhD All rights reserved worldwide.
This article originally appeared in “Wrestling Rhinos: Conquering Conflict in the Wilds of Work”.
Dr. Rhoberta Shaler solves ‘people problems’ at work by making it easier to talk about difficult things. Dr. Shaler speaks to, trains and coaches executives and entrepreneurs worldwide in the communication skills essential to creating powerful conversations that reduce conflict & anger, build trust, and streamline negotiation. The rewards: stronger teams, optimized productivity and increased profits.