Ah yes, the holidays are among us, which means it’s time for fun, friends, food, and family – yep, an opportunity to spend quality time catching up with aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, brothers, and sisters that you may not often see. Time with family members can certainly be a festive and long-awaited occasion to enjoy each other’s company. But, for some, the idea of too much ‘family time’ can be stressful; the laughter and delight of the family gathering quickly turns to tension and conflict—a heated argument about politics, a disagreement over who will win the big game, a different opinion about how long to cook the turkey, and…Houston, we have a problem!
Ironically, the source of tension and conflict that presents itself in our personal lives (especially during the holidays) can closely resemble the root causes of conflict that we experience in the workplace. No, we typically don’t get into arguments (or serious arguments) with our coworkers about whether or not mashed potatoes should or should not have lumps, but we do get in to disagreements over work-related matters that fester and boil up over time. In our last blog, we uncovered some of the common root causes for conflict in the workplace. Today, let’s shift our attention away from the causes of conflict and focus on strategies to improve the conflict situation. In the end, my hope is that each of us can use one or two of the following strategies to help manage, reduce, or even resolve conflict that has reared its ugly head in the work environment (or may surface in your job down the road), and/or could find its way into your holiday celebrations and time spent with family members.
I don’t know many people that actually enjoy conflict. But, ignoring conflict can lead to increased stress, bitterness, resentment, and anger. Tackle conflict in a timely manner, but after you have had a chance to take a step back, evaluate the situation, and consider the most appropriate response or course of action. It’s important to find the right balance between addressing an issue or problem quickly (so that it doesn’t fester) and giving yourself adequate time and space to approach the problem rationally (so that you don’t let your emotions get the best of you).
And FACE Conflict – literally.
When you’re ready to confront a conflict situation with another individual, or group, avoid using asynchronous communication mechanisms to manage the issue, like e-mailing or text messaging. This type of communication replaces productive, two-way conversation with one-way, delayed messaging that is void of important non-verbal cues such as tone of voice and body language, can come across as cold and impersonal, is a breeding ground for misinterpretation and misunderstanding, and can add (unnecessary) fuel to the fire. It may be uncomfortable, but true resolution will only come through real-time, face-to-face synchronous conversations, where both sides can equally present their concerns, clarify points of misunderstanding, ask questions, talk through solutions, and collaboratively work on resolution. If an in-person arrangement isn’t possible, then try to use technology that facilitates face-to-face interaction, like a web-cam or video-conference.
Don’t Try to ‘Win’.
Resolving conflict shouldn’t be seen as an attempt to ‘win’ a competition. When working through conflict with another person, or group, stay focused on identifying points of agreement or disagreement, listening to all viewpoints and perspectives, brainstorming solutions, making compromises, resolving contentious issues, providing constructive feedback, and developing an action plan to move forward. Seek common ground, shared concerns, and areas of agreement, and, in the end, everyone will emerge as a ‘winner’.
Focus on the Issue At-Hand.
Managing a conflict situation with another person, or group, should be centered on addressing the current issue(s) that are causing the tension. Bringing up past and/or unrelated situations or events is counterproductive and will not facilitate progress or add value towards reaching a resolution. To help both parties stay focused, try to define the points of contention and source of conflict upfront, and then hold each other accountable for staying focused on only those issues. If tempers and emotions start to flare, take a quick break so that everyone can step away, calm down, regain composure, and refocus on the issue(s) at-hand.
Don’t Jump to Conclusions.
It’s tough not to want to jump to conclusions when certain things happen. But, doing so, without having all the facts about something or someone, may actually create a conflict situation that could be avoided! Give everyone involved in a conflict situation an equal opportunity to share their viewpoint, perspective, and opinion of what is going on. Actively listen to all sides of the story, with an open mind, and ask clarifying questions to help you better understand where they are coming from. You may find there are underlying circumstances going on that you are unaware of that can help you better cope with the situation and empathize with their side of the situation.
In the end, conflict is tough. It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. Lumpy mashed potatoes may not physically keep you up all night, but an argument that took place earlier in the day with a family member may leave you tossing and turning all night in the same way that a disagreement with a co-worker has kept you awake in frustration. But, next time you are confronted with a conflict situation (at work and/or during the upcoming holidays), I’m hoping that with these tips in your back-pocket you will feel more well-equipped to handle the conflict and will experience a much better outcome!
What strategies are we missing? Share your tips for effectively managing conflict with us on LinkedIn!