We all deal with conflicts in the workplace. In the last 12 years of my professional career, I have had my own share of conflicts. That has left me with some learnings about how to navigate through them successfully. This article is the second in a series of articles. To understand conflicts better, find the first one here.
While there are different ways we can approach a conflict, I have learned from my experiences a few things we MUST NOT DO when conflicts happen. However, these are the very things we end up doing when we are not prepared or aware of how to respond to a particular conflict.
1. Jump Right In and React
Conflicts can be complex, and attempting to handle them without preparation can be our biggest failure. As human beings, we (or our brains) never want to be involved in a conflict, so whenever we encounter one, the first impulse is always to react with whatever comes up in our minds.
Our brains are hardwired to protect us from danger and to ensure our survival. An unexpected conflict is perceived as a threat, and it can lead us towards a fight or flight reaction. Doing so without understanding the conflict and giving ourselves time to process it can do damage which can take a lot of effort to undo in the future.
2. Deny or Avoid the conflict
One of the most natural ways to react to a conflict is to deny its existence. There are always small signs you can notice as conflict builds up. The sooner you act on it, the lesser damage control you have to do later. Don’t pretend that it doesn’t exist, or you are only postponing the problem.
Denial means acting like the conflict doesn’t even exist, and I don’t think there is any human being who has not acted with denial when presented with a conflict at least once in their life. We can close our eyes and walk around as nothing has happened, but that can often result in falling into a pit which can then take a lot of effort to get out of.
“You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” – Indira Gandhi
3. Surrender or Give Up
Many of us hate confrontation, and often we give up our needs and position to avoid an ‘unpleasant’ confrontation. While this prevents the confrontation, it often results in resignation and cynicism as surrendering doesn’t help in moving forward in our careers or life.
Surrendering never helps any party, and spoils the mood and culture in the organization. We should not let anyone bully us or others, regardless of hierarchy or position. If we give up in a conflict, we must know that we have wasted an opportunity for a positive result.
4. Dominate a Conflict
On the other spectrum of surrendering is trying to get our way by dominating. We can do this either by using our influence, position, or personality over the other person. We might get our way if we dominate others, but we never truly “win” a conflict unless both parties are satisfied.
Domination, like surrender above, often ends up weakening the relationship rather than strengthening it. If people are unhappy and resentful, sooner or later it will boil up again as a conflict or show in poor results in whatever we are trying to do.
5. Ignore the Relationship and the People Involved
We often get sucked up in tasks and getting the results we want, that we totally ignore the relationship and the people involved. We should always remember that the people and relationships come first and that any success that focuses only on the “task” will be short-lived if we destroy the relationships in the process.
A productive conflict resolution not only reaches a solution that works for both the parties but also strengthens the relationship between all parties involved. They end up feeling better about themselves and their work, without any frustration and cynicism.
In conclusion, I would like to add that constructive conflict resolution can only happen in a space of trust and camaraderie between people, and all of the points above destroys this space. When people understand each others’ needs and look beyond their fears and anxieties, they can work together to create new results that work for everyone. When this happens, you win WITH the other person rather than OVER them.