The HR community has benefited from studies that evaluate workplace conflict and its relationship to environmental, organizational or personnel-related factors.
It can be argued however that there has not been enough emphasis on issues that address the “capacity of personnel” to successfully build trust to transform conflict in the workplace. Such capacity is interwoven with two foundational skills that draw heavily on our emotional intelligence. We need to consider the individual wherewithal to gauge one’s own responses when presented with challenging workplace dynamics. This means being present and recognizing that although we may be tempted to react to something that makes us uncomfortable with anger or frustration, we can hold ourselves in check and choose to express ourselves more “harmoniously”. This means deepening self-awareness to identify why we may have arbitrarily created barriers between ourselves and our colleagues. Secondly, our commitment to personal clarity within our interactions may look something like this. In a tense moment, a decision to respond cordially can – even in moments where we are not genuinely cordial – may mean the difference between realizing sustainable trust and sustainably productive end results or further toxifying one’s work environment. Lasting change however, can only be realized when structure is put in place that is designed to transform challenging interactions as they arise. Such a shifting workplace culture enables everyone to benefit regardless of title or position. Is there an organizational imperative for directors, managers and staff to be enrolled in professional development that simultaneously maximizes teambuilding and essential life skills in this way?
Can people move beyond their “conflict blindspots”, and raise their emotional intelligence while organizations maintain productivity? Can people simultaneously view conflict constructively while meeting their own professional goals as well as those of their teams? Negotiation consultant and executive coach Lisa Gates, has developed a program committed to soft skill development that does just that. She poses several essential questions to ask oneself to identify conflict patterns captured as the “name, blame, claim cycle”.
- When you initially felt that you were in conflict, what did you IDENTIFY as the cause? Why do you believe you were right?
- Who did you assign as responsible for causing it?
Gates then asks her workshop participants to write down five behaviours that they would like to modify when they are in conflict. These are mirroring or stimulus points that allow people to reframe and essentially “soften” their “conflict tendencies” in order that they understand how such patterns impact working relationships. These processes are only a small indication of Gates’ program.
The testimonials on her website speak to the incredible benefits her clients have realized in in terms of significantly enhancing their approach to conflict. Beyond personal development, clients have noted increased productivity and expanded clientele.
Is Gates’ approach an indication of what we can expect in the future?
Many people development courses which touch upon conflict specifically and barriers to enhance workplace culture generally, rarely realize the core of the problem. Few engage participants in such an in-depth process to unpack, work through and reposition our conflict patterns that might otherwise transform leadership and create lasting cultural change. Are organizations prepared to go a step further and engage staff at every level in such productive processes? Considering the noted benefits, what are they waiting for?
Gates, Lisa. Conflict Resolution Fundamentals, a course companion (featured on Lynda.com)