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N the relationship is stronger N you understand each other more N there is greater willingness to meet each other’s needs N there is greater trust N you have resolved the source of future conflicts N there are richer perspectives.
If the conflict results in deeper frustration, negative feelings and a growing hostility, it is destructive to the relationship. You have created a remedial situation from which you have to recover.
How rows can spiral out of control We don’t always see a row brewing. It can catch us unawares. Before you know it, a spark becomes a flame, then a fire, and you don’t seem to be able to control it any more.
A slight difference over weekend plans can lead to personal insults, widen to include an attack on in-laws, and suddenly the couple are ready to break up.
Road to breakdown Here are some stages that relationships go through on the way to breakdown.
1 Discussion This is when both people are interested in the other’s view of the world and are prepared to share ideas, opinions and feelings. This stage is simply the meeting of minds with no intention to get the other person to think or feel anything different.
N respect for each other’s viewpoint N acceptance of the other’s values N broadening of perspectives 2 Debate This is when there are different viewpoints and I would like you to see things my way, but only if it is right for you.
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACE
N openness to your ideas N respect for your viewpoint 3 Argument I want you to ‘buy’ my ideas, regardless of what you may be thinking. I am ‘right’ and you are ‘wrong’. You should be doing it my way.
N disregard for other’s viewpoint N arguing from own perspective only N polarization N lots of ‘yes buts …’ 4 Conflict Not only do I believe I am ‘right’ and you are ‘wrong’ but I insist you do it my way that you act according to my values and beliefs.
N demands that you behave, as I want N highly personalized arguments N lots of ‘shoulds’ N blame, accusation, put-downs 5 Breakdown The relationship is now so painful that I need to protect myself or recover from the pain. I act as if you don’t exist.
N silence N ‘cold war’ N separate lives
How far through these stages do you need to go to manage differences in open and honest ways? You may find that argument and beyond are signposts to broken rapport and a deteriorating relationship.
What are the choices?
Each of us is different and special. We have our unique beliefs, values and needs.
Different perspectives, viewpoints, goals and approaches are the natural consequence of these differences. The greater the differences, the more difficult it can become to maintain harmony in the relationship.
We have three broad choices when itcomes to managing differences.
1 We can choose to discuss and debate our differences, respecting each other’s opinion.
2 We can argue about these differences, i.e. we are convinced we are right and the other should have our perspective.
3 We can move into conflict about these differences by imposing our way of doing things.
What drives the conflict?
David delegates to Michael in a detailed, precise way, insisting he follow the procedures that he has decided are right. Michael feels restricted and performs best when he can be creative. He likes to be given a task and the freedom on how to complete it.
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACEArgument They argue. David argues that getting the job done right means that procedures are agreed and followed. Michael argues that procedures can restrict creativity and demotivate him. In essence David wants something that Michael doesn’t value and vice versa.
Why do you insist on me seeing what you see, when I don’t?
Conflict Arguing is ‘intellectual’. Conflict is behavioural. Conflict happens when David insists his procedures are followed, preventing Michael from operating in a way that is important to him. This is a violation of Michael’s needs. The consequence is that Michael will begin to feel worth less, be unhappy and less motivated.
Arrogance While difference lies at the source of this conflict – David needs procedures and Michael needs to be creative – it is arrogance that drives the conflict. Each is convinced he is ‘right’, his way is best and the other ‘should’ be like him. If the other person was like you, had your beliefs, values and way of doing things you wouldn’t be in conflict. The sub text around conflict is: ‘I want you like me … you should be like me.’ ‘I want you to change to me, my ways, my standards.’ You are creating conflict if you are imposing your values on others, denying them, their needs.
Others are creating conflict if they are imposing their values on you, denying you, your needs.
Rules, expectations and ‘shoulds’ If I make value judgements – ‘you should’ ‘you ought’ ‘you must’, I am implying that my way is best for you, that my values are more important than yours. This is both arrogant and disrespectful … it is not accepting that the other person can legitimately value other things.
‘I expect you to notice my feelings.’ ‘I expect you to consult me.’ ‘I expect you to listen to me.’ We are inclined to expect others to value what we value. Procedures are important to David and he expects Michael to value these too. Our expectations follow on our values and become our ‘rules’ for life.When my expectations are not met, when my rules are broken, we are in conflict.
Beware of the ‘should’ If I believe my boss should support me in front of others, I will be in conflict with him if he criticizes me in front of my work colleagues. The conflict is happening because of a mismatch between his behaviour and what I expect it should be. Someone who expects the boss to be straightforward in public, if necessary, has different expectations and will not be in conflict because of that behaviour.
Reduce conflict by recognising the positive intention.
Whose rules are right?
Your rules are right... they are right for you, they show the way to meeting your needs and getting what is important to you. But what is important to you won’t be for others, their rules are right for them.
What will be ‘wrong’ is to impose your rules on other people and expect them to live by your rules.
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACEWin-lose is when both people are trying to have their needs met at the expense of the other person’s. Win-win is when both people problemsolve so all needs are met.
Who knows best?
While each of us is ‘right’ in expecting and needing different things, it is sometimes necessary for an experienced person (boss, parent, or teacher) to determine what is in the other’s best interests. This is best when discussion of needs has taken place and an understanding shown for each other’s positions.
When Barry was fifteen years old, he wanted to leave school and work as a car mechanic. His father had a different view, he wanted him to go to university. It took some time for Barry to see a different perspective but now he is glad that his father persisted. Today he is the vice-president of a multi-national corporation.
Resolving conflict As conflict is caused by a denial of people’s needs, the successful resolution must involve the satisfaction of those needs, otherwise the conflict could simmer and re-ignite. If you want a lasting win, look for the win for the other.
If Michael just ignored David’s need for procedures and does the work his way, his needs are met and David’s are not... it is win-lose, 10 for Michael and 0 for David. If David pulls rank and insists that Michael follow his procedures regardless of his need to be creative, this is lose-win, 0 for Michael and 10 for David.
In both these scenarios the conflict remains unresolved and will continue, albeit under the surface, until there is some element of win-win.
Celebrate the difference The view through your window is different, not better, not right, just different. The difference need not be the battleground, it can be the source for broader perspectives. There is nothing wrong with you and there is nothing wrong with me, but there may be something wrong between us. Celebrate rather than fight the difference.
While differences explain conflict, it is arrogance that drives it.
Chapter 4 Are You Building a Bridge or a Barrier?
In this chapter:
N the resolution mindset N the language that fuels conflict N bridging enables ‘you’ and ‘I’ to become ‘we’ N sharing power does not mean giving up power N conditions that lead to win-win N the power of co-operation.
Conflict will escalate or defuse because of your conflict management style.
People react to what you say and do. Whether you defend, attack, retreat, appease, you affect how the other will respond. It is a dynamic moment and you control the direction and the final outcome by the processes you use … by how you use your words and energy.
Does this happen?
‘I think the best way would be to...’ ‘Yes but...’ ‘Yes, but I still think...’ ‘What you don’t seem to realize is...’ ‘Whatever you say, the best approach would be to...’ ‘Why don’t you listen to sense?’ ‘You’re the one being difficult.’ ‘No I’m not. You’re the one with the problem.’
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACEYou and me becoming we To the extent that you are able to translate me and you into we, you will develop affinity, rapport and get co-operation. If you don’t, there is the real likelihood of division, frustration and the escalation of conflict.
In conflict, people usually feel under threat of losing something which is important to them. It is this perceived threat that puts them on the defensive and there is little chance of getting collaboration while it remains. A joint solution is more likely to be achieved if the threat, real or imaginary, is removed.
To achieve this, focus on the other person with the intent to meet their needs.
Attending to what you want, regardless of the other, can create this threat.
The resolution mind set It doesn’t have to be win-lose. If I win £10, you lose £10. If I have three quarters of the cake, you will only have a quarter. If one person gets the promotion, the other loses out. This win-lose mind set forces you into a competitive attitude and language.
This mind set is appropriate in sports but can miss the point where people are concerned. The win-lose tactic assumes there is not enough for everyone to have what he or she needs. Lisa wants to be in at one in the morning and Dad wants her home by eleven. These times exclude each other. As we shall see later in the book, shifting the perspective from wants to needs, can provide a lot more flexibility in terms of win-win.
A reluctant partner It takes two to be in conflict and it requires the will of two to resolve the conflict. If you find that the other party is not interested in resolving the conflict, but wants to hurt or win at any cost, then a different approach is necessary. You may need to protect yourself from the conflict, to walk away or to seek a third party intervention.
Try a positive statement. Mention your intention. Ask what is needed from you. Talk about the advantage for the other person.
‘I would like to find a solution that works for both of us.’ ‘How do you suggest we go about this?’ However, some people will have more to gain by keeping the problem alive than by solving it. Hence they will be reluctant to work with you.
The section on dealing with Power Plays in Chapter 7 will help with this.
Win-lose When winning becomes more important than understanding, it’s a you versus me scenario. Then, instead of listening, people are likely to be preparing a counter-argument or even a counter-attack!
The win-lose mind set leaks out in the language used. It can become a war of words with lots of verbal bullets.
‘Any fool knows …’ ‘Of all the stupid ideas …’ ‘The trouble with you is …’ ‘You must be an idiot if you can’t see …’ To get more fire-power, we attack the person ‘No wonder you have been passed over for promotion four times.’ When we need some heavy weaponry we bring out some old mortar bombs ‘... and it was your fault that we lost the PX contract.’ Hostile language eats up large amounts of time without achieving anything.
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACEPeople can get locked into hostile language patterns. It is as if they know no other way of approaching differences. People who use co-operative language are likely to bridge the differences. Hostile language opens the divide and creates division. Keep the language environment clean if you want people to act from their heads rather than their stomachs. It was Benjamin Franklin who said that any fool can criticize, condemn and complain … and most fools do.
Conflict must be fuelled People may get into hostility loops, feeding more ammunition and pain into the loop from both directions … both are struggling for power and are locked into the win-lose mind set. The gap widens and each digs himself into a deeper hole.
Hostility loops have to be fed, they are not self-sustaining. It takes two to argue but only one to stop... without fuel for the loop, the hostility will splutter and the emotional intensity weaken.