They have been sitting in the meeting room for ages waiting for Employee A to join. Yet, he won’t show up, arguing he has not received the information on time. In the meantime, Employees B and C are gossiping near the coffee machine, while in a small dark room, only lighten by a desk lamp, Employee D is having a temper tantrum, his pen held firmly in his hands ready to shoot. Workplace as a war zone? Well, in confined areas full of people with distinctive values, positions and interests, conflicts are inevitable and they get worse in organizations where competition is the rule or the communication is poor.
Do not avoid conflicts, embrace them!
Sure you can try to avoid conflicts, but they will chase you until they ultimately find you. Instead of hiding in the company’s bathroom waiting for the battle to pass by, it is better (and far more beneficial for your inner-self in the long run) to act according to the ethos: “do not avoid conflict. Learn to deal with it and embrace it”. Why? Well, not all conflicts in the workplace are unhealthy and learning to deal with them may be… constructive for yourself, your team, and the company as a whole. But there is no magic to successfully embrace conflicts. It requires a large dose of resilience and collective effort to better understand conflicts, proactively deal with them and solve them to maintain peace at work.
As Albert Einstein said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we use when we created them.” The ability to start from a place of not knowing, adopting an open and mentally-conscious approach driven by the single objective to solve the problem at stake is rarely an innate gift, rather a soft skill you can acquire. There are some methods that can help unlock your team’s potential in embracing conflicts and help them to solve together the most complex problems.
Systemic thinking: Opening minds!
Systemic thinking consists of considering elements of a group as separates and looking at how they function independent from each other. This approach will help you gaining a deeper understanding of how these elements work, interact and influence each other.
This holistic approach can be beneficial in many ways, if applied in the context of conflict resolution in the workplace. Usually, team members focus more on the people involved rather than on the issue itself. By gaining deeper insights into the issue itself and its underlying causes, team members broaden their perspectives. As they become aware of the interconnections between them and the whole system, they ultimately adopt a more inclusive approach (e.g. “we are in charge of this.” Instead of “you’re responsible for this”).
To guide team members through this process, you can use the iceberg tool.
The objective of this systems thinking tool is to describe the problem from 3 angles:
- Events: What is happening?
- Patterns (i.e. the patterns of events over time): What has been happening?
- Structure: Why has this been happening?
This tool will enable team members to identify the mental models that underlie a particular event and take the corresponding actions for the necessary change.
Yet, opening your mind and broadening your perspective is sometimes not enough, but changing your thinking patterns by putting yourself in some else shoes… um… mind, may well yield effective results.
The Disney Method: Changing minds!
The Disney Method is a creative thinking strategy in which a group resorts to four thinking styles in turn. These are: outsiders, dreamers, realisers and critics.
In the first thinking style, the group thinks as outsiders gaining an external view to the issue. In the second style the dreamers brainstorm ideas without any limits. Then, the group adopts a pragmatic approach, as they become realisers. They now assess all the brainstormed ideas and what it takes to turn them into reality. They also select the best ideas and develop action plans. Becoming critics, the group eventually makes use of its critical eye, reviewing the plans, assessing their feasibility, identifying strengths and potential risks, while also seeking room for improvement.
This method is particularly useful to help team members to break off from a critic approach by exploring different thinking patterns. By developing new ways of thinking, they will come up with new and innovative ideas to solve the issues at stake together.
Resolving conflict starts within yourself!
While a collective effort is key to generate the creative solutions to complex problems, a prerequisite to any successful conflict prevention and resolution lies first and foremost in inner work. The very first part of any conflict management is to control our thinking and emotions. In order to engage in a problem resolution process in a stress-free mode, you can turn to mindfulness. As per Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindful guru, mindfulness is the “awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment without judgment”. The benefits of mindfulness-based conflict response is that it allows you to remain focus in high conflict situations without being overwhelmed by your feelings and emotions. Mindfulness also plays a key role in mediation process. When witnessing a conflict, each and everyone can chose to act as a (mindful) mediator, who purposefully chose to pay attention to what is happening without picking a side, without any judgement! Resolving conflicts really starts within ourselves!
– Caroline Lefèvre