So, what even is workplace conflict? Well, it’s something that most people avoid, dread, or let go through to the keeper because let’s face it – we don’t like dealing with it, and more often than not, we don’t know HOW to deal with it.
We know it’s the argy bargy that happens when people don’t get along and when compromise and collaboration have left the building, but what about the smaller conflict indicators?
The ones that get passed off with statements like “that’s just how they are”?
The ones that have you driving to work doing an impromptu risk assessment in your head, rehearsing what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it and how you’ll manage the snarkiness so you can get back to work.
Well, here are the most common issues my clients call me in to sort out:
These look like misinterpreted emails, garbled under-the-breath mutterings, whispers by the water cooler and hallway conversations filled with problems that could have been resolved if they were actually shared in meetings with the people who could do something about them.
Communication issues are the weeds in your workplace.
They choke out productivity, creativity, bravery, collaboration and trust, and make sure that the only thing that grows strong is disharmony and your competitor’s bank balance.
⚠️Resistance to Change
Ah, the age-old battle between tradition and progress.
When change comes knocking at the door, some of your staff will welcome it with open arms, while others barricade themselves behind desks, files and proclamations of “this is the way we’ve always done it” … as they load their weapons with “if it aint broke” bullets.
Trying to get these people to listen with an open mind, without resistance is like trying to make a cat take a bath – painful, futile and involving a lot of of hairy eyeballs.
These change-phobic people learn very quickly that the way back to familiarity, is to behave like a right plonker and be really difficult, because when they do, most people will just give up and walk away with their arms and eyebrows in the air.
These people are not bad people though – they are people who have very little faith in their own ability to navigate the change and a crippling fear that they’re going to look stupid and therefore no longer belong. They also have a massive sense of loyalty to their own limitations and hold wooden, garlic-covered crosses up to anyone who tries to forcibly take them away.
People who feel good about themselves LOVE change.
People who doubt and discredit themselves HATE change.
The solution is an easy one when you stop trying to change the wrong thing.
Ever met someone whose mere presence makes your teeth itch or your sphincter clench? We’ve all been there. The wild world of personality conflicts.
Whether it’s a clash of egos or a clash of vibes, these showdowns can turn a peaceful workplace into a battleground faster than you can say “awkward silence.”
The term “personality clash’ – in my opinion – is a massive great cop out that implies that “it’s just who they are” and that there’s not a lot you can do about it.
Well, that’s not only wrong, but it’s also participating in the problem by making it personal.
If you don’t address the real issue, you are going to keep seeing good people leave while the unpleasant ones stay, but here’s what you need to know.
There is no such thing as a personality clash.
People don’t clash! Behaviours do.
That’s why I tell my clients to stop trying to change the people, and start inspiring them to WANT to change their behaviour.
Who’s really in charge? Well, isn’t that a tricky question?
Power struggles can turn even the most docile colleagues into ferocious competitors, not just fighting tooth and nail for that coveted corner office or the last slice of birthday cake in the staff room, but for toxic dominance and the right to prove that the rules don’t apply to them.
Again, people who like themselves do NOT feel the need to, or have any interest in, annihilating others.
The people who NEED power are the ones that believe without it they’re not worth a whole lot.
And there-in lies the answer.
Teach your people how to change the six inches between their ears, instead of telling them to just change – and you’ll feel like everyone has taken a laxative and lightened up.
But, if you don’t address these power struggles, your business or organisation is going to earn itself a reputation that will keep doing damage long after the power player has gone.
Whether it’s micromanaging every detail or hoarding information like a mama bear guards its offspring, your control freaks will turn collaborative projects into solo missions, and creative brilliance into chronic stagnancy.
But, what if it’s not micromanaging that’s happening, but simply a difference in the way they process information? What if the person who’s under the control freak’s thumb isn’t weak or submissive, or too sensitive, but someone who processes information differently?
What if the control freak and the one who is freaked by control are experiencing the exact same internal conflict without even knowing it?
Fun fact – they ARE!
Imagine what would happen if you could teach them to recognise their own processing style and also how to effectively, and empathetically articulate it?
That’s what would happen.
And sales targets being smashed, laughter drowning out the snarls, and you’d get a rush of CVs because your people are going home raving about you, rather than cremating you.
So, in a nutshell, to bring this article into one meaningful, concept – the ONLY unhealthy thing about conflict, is the way you and your people are reacting to it.
When you all learn how to respond the right way, the conflict will, like magic, turn into a glorious thinktank of creative solutions that make you money … and make people happy.
Your people will know how to create meaningful space FOR each other instead of making covert, emotional hand grenades to throw AT each other.
Conflict will be seen as a great opportunity to evolve, rather than as a declaration of war.
So, if you know that there is conflict in your workplace, but you don’t know what to do about it, we need to talk, because I can help you.
Leanne Shaw – Conflict Resolution Specialist
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