Conflict--what's your initial reaction? Want to find a better solution to handling any conflict? Explore how to find your way OUT of blaming, unnecessary drama, or running for the hills by following these practical guidelines.
Quickly answer this question: "When faced with conflict, any conflict, what is the first thought you have?" Is it, "Not another ##*&%!! issue?" Do you say, "Not my fault?" How about a Scarlett O'Hara, "I'll think about it tomorrow." Perhaps you are one of the rare few who think, "Oh great, I'll learn from this mess."
Whatever your first response, be kind to your thoughts! These knee-jerk reactions are there for survival and security. Once you learn to think in terms of systems you can find a better solution to handling any conflict. Understanding how systems operate is your way out! You learn to Observe, Understand, and Transform conflicts by looking at the context and long term consequences.
Systems' thinking is holistic, integrated, and interdependent. It takes into account the big picture and long range thinking. So when a conflict erupts the first question to ask is "What do I want as an outcome?" Then "How have I handled this kind of issue in the past?" Next take some time to connect the dots. Look at how you have either avoided or perhaps barreled into solving the problem without thinking it through. Is your tendency to blame others or blame yourself? Do you go dramatic, comic, or silent?
Patterns of behavior become the focus of attention instead of blaming individuals. To reduce conflict and increase productivity you need to become "systems' prepared." Here are several practical guidelines for handling conflict when at work. These guidelines will help you begin to do the hard work of slowing down, opening honest lines of communication, and facilitating a team to get to the heart of the conflict. Use these guidelines to get beyond the twin mistakes of obsessing and scapegoating:
*Stop downward spirals: Create a win-win situation. This does not mean that the pie is evenly divided, but rather that everyone has been heard and has been included in hammering out a solution.
*Encourage everyone to speak, and to speak concisely. Truth telling is an interaction, not a monologue. Everyone needs to be hears in equal increments. A good model is to have all parties repeat the facts first, give an opinion, talk about how the situation makes them feel, and then state a possible beneficial outcome. Make sure this is done is short sentences.
*Remember that solutions are not meant to be Band-Aids. When tensions are high most people will take the first solution to be the best just to get out of the discomfort. Take a break and revisit or let people "sleep on it" and return the next day before stamping the issue finished. When groups are allowed to talk together and probe for better solutions, you open the way for lasting transformation. Conflicts don't need to be seen as mere nuisances or disruptions; they can also be seen as gifts in disguise. Adopt a systems' approach in your handling of conflicts, and your organization will become far more thoughtful and more inventive, not to mention a happier and more soulful place to work.