Courage with Conflict

Courage With Conflict

Managing conflicts with others requires some courage. Why? Because dealing with conflict means taking a little risk. The risk may be real or imagined, but it is still there. Some issues seem so threatening that we avoid taking the risk. We go for the short-term gain of not dealing with it and sometimes end up with the long-term pain of living with the conflict.

Conflict ManagementLet’s say you are involved in a workplace conflict. It might be between you and your supervisor, or it could be a peer-to-peer conflict with one or more team members, or it could be between you and someone you supervise. In other words, the conflict is with a person or persons with whom you have some type of interdependent relationship at work.

Tip: Play the “What If?” game to assess the risk of the conflict.

Answer these questions:

  • What if I don’t address the conflict? 

What’s the worst that could happen? The problem escalates. There is more frustration. Work relations are even more strained. Productivity is affected. Careers can be sabotaged.

What’s the best that can happen? The problem goes away on its own. (How likely is this?)

  • What if I do address the conflict?

What’s the worst that could happen? Others think I’m out of line. Others become defensive and argumentative.  Team members start shutting me out.

What’s the best that could happen? We talk it out, resolve this issue and come to an agreement on how to handle future problems. We gain better understanding and trust. Everyone involved moves out of their comfort zones and grows.

When you weigh the pros and cons it helps you decide the best action to take. You usually do not gain much by avoiding conflicts. They don’t usually go away if you ignore them. On the other hand, asking and answering these questions can help you get perspective and overcome some of your fears. Look for the opportunities that conflict holds. Conflict is not bad in itself, it’s how we deal with conflict that makes it good or bad.

Be courageous.

Ben Adkins is a mediator, trainer and lecturer on the strategic management of workplace conflict.

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  1. Erna Eubanks - October 11, 2012 12:39 am

    Greetings Ben,

    I came across your blog and find it very interesting. Thank you for this post and encouraging to ask the “What if?” questions. This would seem common sense, but it has to be stated out loud at times for the reality of the situation to come to awareness. I would imagine another take on this is “Will it matter tomorrow? What about a week from now?”. Often it may not matter tomorrow, but in the workplace groups start to form around common beliefs, even if the conflict started with a dyad. So yes, it probably will matter a week from today.

    I especially like that you state that it is helpful to “come to an agreement on how to handle future problems.” Ground rules and setting expectations can go a long way in complex discussions. In these situations where groups may form around the original members in conflict, have you found that the perception of losing face delays the progress of managing or resolving the conflict? Under all the content of a conflict it seems to me that this may be a driving factor for conflict at times.

    Erna Eubanks

    • Ben Adkins - October 11, 2012 12:17 pm

      Good point Erma. Our ego and desire to save face are driving factors that can hinder conflict resolution conversations. This is most common when the parties involved have not developed a level of trust. In these cases it is best to have a conversation facilitated by a neutral third party. The disputants can safely get their point of view listened to and understood. When the parties in dispute understand the purpose of the conversation is to determine future behaviors that will resolve the problem they are more likely to not be defensive. The purpose of the conversation is NOT to affix blame or determine who is right or wrong, the purpose is to satisfy the underlying interests of all the parties in a way that is acceptable to everyone. Eventually a third party facilitator is not needed in these conversations because employees learn how to have these conversations on their own. And that’s the goal.


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