In June 2012, Healthy Companies International surveyed 2,700 employees from its in-house database of senior managers, HR executives and C-suite leaders to examine employee perceptions of 20 specific manager behaviors. In one of the two lowest behaviors, just 59% of employees said their boss dealt capably with workplace conflicts.
“Conflict occurs in every organization,” said Stephen Parker, president of Healthy Companies International, in a news statement. And almost always it falls to the boss to handle workplace discord, he noted. “It comes with the job and, in fact, is a core element in assessing the performance of an executive with supervisory responsibility.” (Home Channel News, August 2012).
Not just supervisors and managers struggle with handling conflicts. In a poll this month of 16 organizations in our own Vermont Human Resources group, we found that the number one soft skill training needed by all employees is “Interpersonal Skills/How to Get Along with Others.”
It seems that no matter what changes happen in the workplace, conflict remains. In my recent research, the ability to resolve conflicts again presents itself as a desired skill, but this time as an avenue to be more efficient and effective.
In Peter Bregman’s book, 18 Minutes: Find your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done, he shares the formula below to help us more quickly resolve conflicts and be more successful on the job:
Let’s examine how it works. First, an event occurs that leads to conflict or a difference.
Next, the arrow suggests a time to “pause.” During this “out” time, you can work through the emotions associated with the event until they become past tense in your mind. If the situation warrants an immediate response, demonstrate the body language of being calm, relaxed – whatever the opposite of your fight/flight reaction might be. Your brain, unable to be inconsistent, will follow your physical reaction and you will begin to calm down. Dr. McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct suggests that you slow down your breathing, and focus on deeply exhaling and inhaling to bring you back to more rational, rather than emotional thinking.
If you tend to have the opposite reaction, a “flight” reaction, stop yourself from denial, running away or giving in to the other person to make the conflict disappear. Ask for time to think through the situation. In your “pause” time, you can start to identify and label those feelings that make you want to flee and why.
When you are ready, move on to “Outcome.” Here, you ask yourself a single question: “In the end, what is the outcome I want from this situation?” Outcomes could vary from “I want a great relationship with this person” or “I want to be seen as confident and professional” to “I want this sale/job,” etc. For me, keeping my eyes focused on the “outcome” helps me to lower and delay my emotional reaction. If I really don’t care, well, then whatever happens, happens. However, if I want a positive long-term outcome, I’d better think twice before taking a fight or flight stance in the moment. Again, your outcome here may be obvious or you may need extra time to think about it.
In the next point, Bregman hits the nail on the head. He says, “instead of reacting to the event, react to the outcome.” In other words, “stop reacting to the past and start reacting to the future.”
Any event warrants a reaction, particularly if the action taken by the other person hits a trigger point in our brain. The more we have stored a collection of common reactions, the more we are likely to bypass our rational thinking and just respond. Bregman suggests that we can break that pattern by focusing on the goal we want to achieve (the outcome) and stop derailing our own efforts at success.
I encourage you to give it a try. In your next conflict situation:
- First, stop your automatic reaction. Figure a way to give yourself room to “pause.”
- In that reflection time, ask yourself: What is the long-term outcome I want from this situation? How do I want to be viewed by others? Will the reaction I’m choosing lead to my success or hinder it?
- When ready, take action to achieve your future, positive outcome.
- Later, evaluate your results. Do you feel better about or have more peace with your reaction? Are you closer to your end goals? Do you feel more successful by your choices?
Notice I didn’t ask you if it was easier – mostly because, in some instances, it won’t be. It may be that success meant you had to surface your opinion and assert yourself, while others may have had to hold back and let go of being right.
I’m reminded of the old military saying – “he won the battles, but lost the war.” With this new focus, I hope you can win the war.
Looking for the best way to manage conflict on your team or in your department? Download our FREE Chapter in The Team-Building Tool Kit entitled Managing Team Conflict to get started.