Several questions were posed to a group of individuals between the ages of 25 to 71. They represented various cultures, ethnicities and racial groups. Below is an overview of what the chats revealed regarding our conversations about conflict.
Question 1: What Is Your Biggest Challenge When Dealing With Conflict?
In reviewing my conversations, I noticed that the first question (What are your biggest challenges when dealing with conflict?) in the 15-minute chats elicited more questions than statements. Many respondents asked “how do I” questions. For example:
How do I:
- Communicate effectively?
- Confront it?
- Avoid it?
Upon closer review, the Communications category responses range from some people being afraid to speak up to others believing that the communication problem is primarily due to poor listening skills.
Surprisingly, the communication category yielded a few positive responses. Some people wanted to know how to effectively open the lines of communication and engage the other person rather than irritating them. That’s great, but the ultimate goal should be to stand up to the challenge of resolving the conflict. Ignoring the signs of escalation allows issues to fester. So, what do we do about it? In a nutshell, we need to be willing to have difficult conversations.
The next step is to remember four key points:
BE OPEN to changes that can replace petty jealousy, late production lines, product delivery, or the need to pay overtime due to hours lost in conflict and the low morale that unresolved conflict creates. Replace those issues with effective communication, team collaboration, and an inviting workplace where everyone views conflict as an opportunity to improve the team.
RECOGNIZE the inevitable conflict cost each individual and organization will endure.
CALCULATE THE REAL COSTS associated with unresolved conflict. Conflict is the single most preventable cause of lost revenue. Eighty-five percent of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree1CPP Global Human Capital Report.
DECIDE to work things out rather than to pay real dollars in litigation.
Question 2: What Is Your Biggest Fear When Dealing With Conflict?
Perhaps one of the following acronyms represents your thinking when you answer What are your biggest fears when dealing with conflict?
False Evidence Appearing Real
Forget Everything And Run
Face Everything And Recover
If you access Acronyms.TheFreeDictionary.com and search for FEAR2acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/FEAR, you find 39 acronyms for FEAR. As I listened to and later examined the responses to the question about fear and conflict, I knew that these acronyms were a way to describe the feedback.
I chose the three (listed above) I know well. People avoid confronting conflict (24%) for a myriad of reasons, but when you take the fear of confronting conflict, coupled with the fear of:
|Not Resolving the Conflict||13%|
|Retention and Recruitment||7%|
It is not surprising that most conflicts remain unresolved.
People fear offending others if they attempt to communicate their needs. For example, when attempting to communicate to resolve a conflict, one respondent3Respondent 041. The identities of respondents is confidential. said, “Is it possible that this person is so enraged by the attempt to resolve the conflict, they may hit me?” That seems to mean I need to fear aggression/hostility. In this case, perhaps it is a good idea to avoid conflict. That fear becomes very personal when people feel misunderstood or unheard.
The issue may need to stop there. Perhaps conflict resolution is impossible because, as noted above, eighty-seven percent of respondents may avoid the conflict. This leads me to believe that this group would rather Forget Everything And Run.
There is a healthier way to address conflict. I know, “The Fear is Real!” Although it may appear that you cannot get through it, I would say that is False Evidence Appearing Real.
It’s time to Face Everything And Recover. I promise you addressing the conflict is worth it!
To conquer the fear, you need to do four things:
NAME IT. Ask yourself what you are afraid of. You cannot fix what you refuse to identify.
PRIORITIZE. Ask yourself, is the resolution more important than your fear? As one respondent said, “I can’t come back to the same issue tomorrow.” Can you?
HAVE A PROCESS4The first three items were adapted from Jeff Boss’s article showcased at Forbes.com Forbes.com Jeff Boss 2017 https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffboss/2017 /05/12/3-practical-team-strategies-for-managing-the-fear-of-conflicV?sh=30ce 7 c2d7569,. Create a “how-to” plan that addresses the conflict and creates an environment that everyone wins. If you need help with the plan, we are an email away.
VISUALIZE THE OUTCOME. Practice makes perfect. See yourself in the conversation with the other person, addressing the conflict. See yourself responding rather than reacting; being open, not judgmental or confrontational; and finally listening to the other person before you attempt to speak. When the other party feels heard, they will listen to you, and a path to resolution becomes possible.
POINTS TO PONDER
- According to a study published in Inc5https://www.inc.com/brian-de-haaff/the-359-billion-problem-driving-your-project-under-the-radar.html online, workplace conflict costs organizations more than $359 billion a year. That’s the total price of the 2.8 hours per week U.S. employees spend dealing with workplace conflict. This statistic is PRE-COVID-19. Yet only 6% of the respondents stated that they fear the effects of unresolved conflict on the bottom line. So, what is the moral of the story? Don’t just look at how the conflict affects you, but consider how it affects the bottom-line of your organization.
- Our current climate has everyone fearful about issues from privacy rights to religious freedoms and gun control; from white supremacy to Black Lives Matter; from universal healthcare to immigrants. The list goes on. But a common thread from a few respondents centered around this new virtual space we are in and the challenge of navigating the waters when attempting to educate in the virtual space.
Question 3: What Is Your Biggest Frustration When Dealing With Conflict?
Why does conflict arouse so much frustration?
Before addressing this question, I researched the relationship between frustration and conflict.
Frustration can be defined as “dissatisfaction stemming from an individual’s inability to achieve a goal”. On the other hand, conflict can be defined “as a condition where the individual faces difficulty deciding between two or more different interests6https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-frustration-and-vs-conflict/.
The inability to reach personal and professional goals causes people to look for the “Whys.” The fifteen-minute chats revealed that individuals who are not reaching those goals need to attend training.
Those that are cutting corners or not willing to listen need to think about why they are doing this and who it serves. In these cases it is easy to see why resolution can be illusive. Take a look at the top responses below:
|Conflict Resolution Training||27%|
|Cutting Corners/Low Effort||15%|
|Poor Listening Skills||10%|
- 27% of the respondents were not asking for training themselves, but rather would love for others to get training so they can stop fighting their battles. Respondents’ comments indicated they were tired of being the one to unruffle feathers and soothe egos. They are tired of being the only ones (seemingly) to stew over the issues causing disharmony.
I have a few questions for the 27% who don’t want to deal with other’s inability to address their own conflicts. The questions are:
- What happens if the company or individual cannot afford conflict resolution training?
- What happens if people don’t get the training to address conflict or take the easy way out?
The answer is either way, the team suffers. Resolution is, again, not on the horizon.
The frustration is real. Fourteen percent of the respondents feel the frustrations of the other respondents, but for them, the more significant frustration is identifying a solution. We must have a forum to air our grievances, And at the end of the day the simple answer is to provide training by a trusted conflict resolution resource.
We also must look at the balance sheet where we will see the cost of conflict. How much are you willing to pay? This is not an admonishment to those who dared to speak up (the 27% in this survey) , but rather a challenge to all of us to find a resolution.
“Each One Teach One” is an African proverb that originated during slavery when Africans were denied education. When someone learned how to read or write, it became their responsibility to teach someone else. The idea is to spread knowledge for the betterment of your community7https://coe.arizona.edu/each-one-teach-one.
Mark Victor Hansen8https://www.optimize.me/quotes/mark-victor-hansen/20801-each-one-reach-one-each-one-teach-one/, a well-known author, and speaker, enhanced the statement: “Each one, reach one. Each one, teach one. Until all are taught.” If we want to have a better living and working environment, let’s make this our motto.
Let’s move from frustration to the benefits of conflict resolution. For example:
- If we respond rather than react, listen, rather than insist on our own answers, we will most likely find a perspective different from ours that will add dimension to the conversation and lead to resolution.
- If we calm down, practice what we need to say before we say it, and listen to the other person, we may find ourselves able to articulate better.
- If we deal with the conflict head-on, we save money9https://www.inc.com/brian-de-haaff/the-359-billion-problem-driving-your-project-under-the-radar.html, and we are more likely to speak up the next time to avoid creating unresolved conflict.
- If we are willing to address conflict in the workplace, we become better at dealing with it and begin recognizing where a situation is going before it explodes. (You may find that this new knowledge helps your personal relationships as well.)
- The only power we have is over our own reactions or responses. People often think they know what we need, so they don’t need to listen, we can’t control that. but we can control how we react/respond. As one respondent put it, “We cannot control what space a person is in, and that the space they are in causes them to see, hear and experience things that are not happening at the moment10Respondent 037. Fifteen-minute chat respondent identities are confidential..” In other words you can only control you.
Question 4: What Do You Want to Learn About Resolving Conflict?
The idea for the fifteen-minute chats came about when I decided to offer an online class on conflict resolution. I developed the course and thought it would be good to see if it was a viable idea. I was seeking the following feedback:
- Is my course design on point?
- Did I forget anything?
- Would people find this course helpful?
The process of completing the chats proved to be so interesting that I had trouble keeping them to only 15 minutes. Nevertheless, the chats were informative; and I determined that the course would be helpful. Also important, I had developed a course that contained about 98% of what respondents wanted to learn.
But the best news came when people said something that I had not considered or mentioned something they wanted to learn but that I hadn’t included as an objective or goal. I knew those elements would be a part of the class, but I didn’t feel they needed to be included as objectives. For example, a few respondents mentioned modeling behavior or body language, which I thought would be covered by the role-playing exercises incorporated into the course. But this was more important than role-playing.
I naively assumed that participants would observe the body language that I modeled during the session, and we would talk about it. I have since modified the objectives to include a deliberate discussion about how body language can enhance or escalate a conflict. Thanks, everyone! There were a few other surprises, but I will save those for the class.
I was encouraged to learn that seventy-two percent of the respondents want to learn how to handle conflict. Most of us have found ways to address some disputes but do our best to avoid other, more challenging issues. Some said they are good with managing conflict at work and bad when dealing with personal conflict. As one respondent explained, “At work, I’ve got this! But personal conflict, well, not so much11Respondent 002. Respondent information is confidential .” Other respondents said that handling conflict in their private lives is much easier than at work.
Several respondents referred to “being in a safe space” when addressing conflict, while a few spoke of “letting down their armor.” It is like being in a school with an active shooter or being in a boardroom with angry clients and not being safe. No one wants to feel as if their lives or jobs are in danger because they think differently. This ideal situation is an open and inviting workplace. This is the space where people are willing to address conflict.
The bottom line is that everyone attending a course on conflict wants to become a better conflict resolution professional. So here are a few suggestions you can use “before” attending training.
When conflict arises:
- WORK to stay calm. Breathe! Concentrating on your breathing will help you see what is really happening, allowing you to respond rather than react. A reaction is immediate and rarely leaves time for reflection. On the other hand, a response is deliberate, thoughtful, allowing you to respect differences and honor the other party through open communication.
- BE willing to hear the other party. Willingness to listen will put the other party at ease and allow them to see the entire situation, rather than just their side.
Remember! In almost all conflicts, a resolution is possible, but work is required. Are you willing to learn to do the job?
Question 5: What Would Your Dream Day Look Like If Conflict Were Expected and Celebrated for Its Ability to Bring People Together Rather Than as a Problem?
Can you see a day where conflict is expected and celebrated for its ability to bring people together? Forty-six percent of respondents indicated that resolving the conflict would be the standard operating procedure for their team – BECAUSE…
- People recognize the benefits of conflict and how they can improve communication in all relationships. Conflict is good. (23%)
- But for this to happen, people need to feel safe, and safety begins with open lines of communication. (17%)
- and mutual respect is the order of the day (9%).
With the onset of COVID-19, companies rushed to this virtual space to continue providing services that their clients rely on (such as training), but trainers were overwhelmed by the need to change from instructor-led face-to-face training to remote training. While not easy, that change was necessary and included the need to depend on the spoken word without the benefit of facial expressions and body language. Learners, too, were confronted with the need to communicate differently.
It was and continues to be an interesting time – a time of learning and personal growth. While face-to-face training will probably resurface at some time, almost all instructor-led training is now virtual. We must look at what we have to do differently, to use our Adult Learning knowledge and experience to find a way to meet the learners where they are.
Imagine that conflicts are not allowed to fester, that resolution is prioritized over personal grudges and petty animosities. This change won’t happen overnight; it is a process. To move through that process, we need to:
- RECOGNIZE that conflict is inevitable and should be anticipated and welcomed for the growth that it provides.
- REMEMBER to be safe. Assess the situation before moving forward with a resolution. If you don’t feel safe, there is no resolution. The word conflict should not invoke anxiety or make you want to run away.
- LOOK at conflict as a struggle that has a resolution. In some situations, you may need to break down the problem completely and reorganize the situation to emerge at a place called resolved.
- BE willing to participate in the journey.
- BE willing to examine and admit to your place in the conflict.
- BE willing to hear and apply constructive advice.
- BE willing to get the training you need.
Don’t stop dreaming. It is possible to resolve most conflicts. Recognize, Remember, Look and Be Willing!
Question 6: What Would You Like to See In a Course on Resolving Conflict That Would Make You Feel Supported?
The course that I designed included a variety of elements that participants could use during the class and could then add to their toolkits for future use. Question six was designed to determine if respondents were looking for the same tools. Additionally, we wanted to determine if other tools should be added to our list.
We prepared an incredible course that provides the tools you seek and the safety you need. Our goal is to be ready for all responses and to take the temperature of those in the room often and openly, not to escalate a situation but to ensure everyone feels free in the process.
Three times during the interviews, a respondent’s words made me stop, reconsider an exercise, and rewrite it. My exercises were good; they were time-tested, and they generated the proper responses. But the new exercises that surfaced based on a phrase, a situation, or the desires of someone’s heart were remarkable. I won’t share all the changes here. However, the chart above reveals the results, which coincide with the tools included in the course.