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Jamie Notter

Great post, Steve. I like the distinction between what, how, and why in conflict situations, and particularly the value of exploring the deeper how and why issues before choosing your what strategy. And the point about forgiveness is spot on. One of the main lessons I pulled out of my work in the conflict resolution field is that forgiveness and reconciliation is probably the hardest part and the single most prevalent reason intractable conflicts persist (yet it did not get enough attention in that field. Hmmm).

I do want to push a little on the notion that no one likes conflict. I do think there are people out there who derive energy from conflicts. It's kind of like Introvert and Extrovert on the Myers-Briggs. It's where people derive energy or feel drained. Some people really do get energized from being in conflict situations, and as such often look for them (or start them).

And beyond that, I'd argue that conflict itself is not the problem--it's our response to conflict. Conflict, in fact, is good and a critical part of all of life, all relationships, and all growth and development (see my "Conflict is good" post: http://snurl.com/ru0p3 ).

Thanks for pushing the conversation!

Wally Bock

As with most things connected to leadership, what you do and how you do it both matter. I think Jamie's got a nice focus comment, though. You're going to have more than one person on your team, which means you will have conflict. As Jamie notes, it's not the conflict as much as how we react to it that matters.

Steve Roesler

Jamie,

You've got me thinking about some people "getting energized" by conflict in the the same sense as an MBTI preference. I think that's true and a good way to characterize it.

So now I'm thinking about the people I know/do business with who fall into that category--and there are lots of them. As I visualize their interaction (while simultaneously watching Monday Night Football) it occurs to me that I've never experienced them as seeming to be "in conflict". Instead, they strike me as folks who enjoy "recreational debate". As a result, the spirit of their interaction doesn't create the kind of tension that we commonly associate with conflict.

As you note: ". . . conflict itself is not the problem--it's our response to conflict." When people learn that lesson in all aspects of life, inner peace reigns.

Thanks for adding more depth to the topic.

Steve Roesler

Wally,

You say: "You're going to have more than one person on your team, which means you will have conflict."

It hasn't been all that long since "Managing Conflict" workshops were a staple of supervisory training. Given the gravity of your observation, one would wonder why that is no longer true.

Mile High Pixie

I'm noticing that a lot of folks are looking into leadership training and conflict management and resolution a lot more in the past year or so because no one can just up and leave their job, thereby leaving behind whatever poor leadership and destructive conflicts are taking place. To paraphrase Crosby Stills and Nash, if I can't work for the one I love, I'll work for (and tolerate) the one I'm with.

I think most people who come here are looking for help with conflict for two reasons: a) the conflict they're dealing with is destructive and not constructive, and b) someone they work with enjoys conflict in an unhealthy way. Just as criticism can be constructive or destructive, conflict can be the same way. A client can disagree with or be unwilling to accept the floor plan I draw for them on the grounds of X, but I keep telling them that my layout is better because of Y. When we begin to use this disagreement--this conflict--as a starting point to make a third and better solution that satisfies both X and Y, we engage in constructive conflict.

But the other problem with conflict is the person who gets a charge out of being contrary for its own sake, who thrives on the conflict as a way of "solving" it to make themselves look good or to show that everyone else on the team is inept. When resources get tight, it can bring out that quality in some people, and it makes the team dynamic become untenable. I'm betting these are about half the people seeking you out.

(The other half are people like me, who are using the down economy as a chance to not just survive but thrive and to build on their skills and abilities.)

Steve Roesler

MHP:

Hadn't thought of it in those ways. And any reference to CS&N is always bumps up the conversation.

What's clear from your description of these situations is:

a. Stress, regardless of the source, contributes significantly to conflict.

b. Some people are just jerks. If a manager sees this kind of behavior, it's something that needs to be addressed. if it isn't, the manager/management is complicit in the negative impact that it has on decent people.

Is your firm doing anything to help acknowledge the impact of stressful times and get some help to give employees and managers effective ways to deal with conflict and "take the air out of the balloon?"

Mile High Pixie

Steve, good question. My firm is a pretty nonconfrontational one in general, and it pains us at times, especially on those occasional days when all the partners go into a conference room ALL DAY--that usually means there are about to be some layoffs or really huge changes coming, and not happy changes. Those of us in the trenches talk amongst ourselves, but the smart ones of us (dare I say, that includes me) are doing their own stress and conflict management. We've decided that with conflict, we have to hang together or we'll all hang separately (thanks Ben Franklin!) and just take a deep breath and figure out solutions. Also, with almost half of our office gone, who are we going to have a conflict with? (e.g., the layoffs have actually gotten rid of many of the people with whom we might have butted heads).

Also, I and many of the folks who sit around me have decided to quit fretting after almost a year of economically-induced stress. We've saved up our layoff cushion to help pay the bills, we've paid down our financial debts as much as possible, we've adjusted to living on our lower incomes, and we still have jobs so we feel like we're doing something right and we're still appreciated. We've all slowly decided to quit letting that one source of stress--for the most part--get to us. Because of this new state, it seems like when we DO come to our bosses with a problem or conflict, they're more likely to take us seriously, offer good counsel, and listen. Not sure if I answered your question, but that's where my office is now.

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