By addressing any hint of conflict immediately. Right now.
If you don’t, it will grow. There is no doubt whatsoever about it!
Conflict doesn’t go away – it just festers! It may seem like the waters are calm, but in actual fact, the undercurrents are destructive. And it doesn’t matter whether the conflict is in volunteer organizations you belong to, at work or in your personal relationships.
In Organizations – Recently, I experienced a conflict situation with someone. She “ambushed” me at a meeting of a volunteer organization because she didn’t like some of the things I had said to her of late. I was quite steamed of course because I could see how she had used “backroom tactics” to put me on the spot and, of course, disappointed because I thought our relationship was more positive; certainly I didn’t expect this kind of behavior. She had “prepared” her compatriots for the “attack”. Well, the attack backfired on her and “her people” didn’t support her. Did I want a repeat of this behavior on her part? No, of course not.
She was going away so I sent her an email indicating that I wanted a telephone conversation to clear the air upon her return. I told her what I was upset about. Her response? To send my emails, without my permission, to everyone in the group which, of course, is not good for the group dynamics. This is the kind of person is highly destructive no matter where she operates. Her style is “my way or the highway” and, if you don’t agree with her, she’ll “get you”. How? Through the “gang up” method – the schoolyard bully syndrome. Will this conflict ever be resolved? I don’t know.
This is an example where I have a choice – is resolving this conflict worth it?
At Work – Often, people don’t have a choice – they have to go to the office every day of the week and face someone which whom they are having a conflict. In the office, as a manager, I learned through experience that it was my job to deal with conflict – any conflict – whether it was between employee in my department, between an employee and myself, or between a peer and myself or even conflict between my boss and I. Most managers don’t want to deal with conflict and do everything in their power to avoid addressing it.
If a manager sees or experiences conflict, then deal with it immediately – now – don’t wait one more second. Set up a meeting and get through it. Is it stressful? Absolutely! That’s why most people avoid dealing with conflict because it is so emotional and so stressful that avoidance seems to be the answer. Notice I said, “seems to be the answer”. Avoidance is never, ever the answer in the workplace.
A secretary at one time kept referring to the Bible in the workplace constantly. There were others on staff who were either non-believers or believed in another religion. It irritated a lot of people but no one, not even my boss, wanted to deal with it because of the sensitivities surrounding one’s beliefs. I dealt with it – the whole was more important than the one – she simply hadn’t realized the effect her references to the Bible were having on others. If I hadn’t intervened, the irritations would have grown into a whole host of negative emotions and affected everyone’s work
Will you always succeed? No. But you will have begun the process. There are some people who will never, ever want to participate in addressing the situation and resolving the conflict –
- they love to live in conflict – it makes them feel alive – if conflict doesn’t exist, they’ll likely create it
- or they’re right – at all costs and see everyone and everything else as wrong – they don’t want to generate a positive atmosphere and are unwilling often to an exchange of possible solutions; only when their jobs are at risk will they even “budge” and sometimes not even then
- or it doesn’t fit with how they operate – as a bully or a “backroom tactician”! It’s their way or the highway is their attitude – there is no middle ground. If a person doesn’t go along with everything they say and do, they’ll do everything in their power to gather support against the person and make life very uncomfortable. These are the people you take on or leave – they can be defeated but it takes time and energy – they don’t like to be asked questions
These are the very people you must distance yourself from. And when they are in the office, they are the type of people who should be encouraged to leave or, in the worse case scenario, start the process of dismissing them.
You’ll find, however, that most people do want to resolve the conflict – they want to air their “side of the story” and they want a solution – most people want to live in as much harmony as possible. Sometimes, when they see the other side, they are surprised and offer their apologies. Sometimes, they still don’t agree but at least it’s out in the open and they know, on that point, they will never see eye to eye – and that’s okay. Sometimes, they all of a sudden “hear each other” and discover that they were saying the same thing in different ways. And, sometimes, it was just plain silly and they both admit it – laughing about how stupid it was to get into conflict in the first place!
It’s the same in your personal life. My partner is a master at approaching conflict. His approach is gentle but effective and it’s all about timing. He’s not afraid of my emotions; he’s interested in getting rid of the problem. It’s addressed. Life moves on.
Will you be good at conflict resolution in all parts of your life? Likely not. No one is. Where one person is master at conflict resolution at work, they fall short at home. But it is a learned skill and, with time and conscious effort, it can be improved.
How can you save time dealing with conflict? By dealing with it – NOW – that’s how. There is no other way unless you are willing to accept constant tension in your environment, an increase in game playing and the inevitable escalation of conflict one way or another. In the long run, unresolved conflict will cost you a lot more time than dealing with it immediately.