In these difficult times of increased workloads and higher anxiety levels, conflict in the workplace can so easily arise.
Consultant and Conference Speaker, Frank Newberry, argues that conflict at work is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, conflict has always been around; it is natural and healthy and can lead to good things.
It is not, however, a comfortable experience and needs to be handled well. Conflict that is not handled well can lead to bullying and harassment, low morale, poor performance at work and even criminal charges against the perpetrators*
In this multi-part article Frank will be:
• defining the term 'conflict'
• exploring how conflict in the work place can be a positive 'opportunity' and
• how we can prepare ourselves to respond well (and get the best) from conflict at work
Let me start by defining what I mean by conflict. Popular definitions include:
1) A state of opposition or hostilities
2) A fight or struggle
3) The clashing of opposed principles and values
To these can be added the notion of a person 'being conflicted' or in conflict with himself or herself. This 'being conflicted' has been defined as "the opposition of incompatible wishes or needs in a person".
The frustration that this internal conflict causes can also result in people getting into conflict with others as they struggle with the burden of their personal conflict.
In general what is causing people to get into conflict with others at work?
There is research that suggests that it often starts with frustration and fear. For example, people might get frustrated when they are not getting what they want - when they want it - or when they see others not pulling their weight in the work team.
This frustration increases, and fear and anxiety are added if the stakes are high for the person and, yet, no one else seems to be taking the issue seriously.
If people are not reacting in a way that is expected - at a time of risk and danger - then those feeling the danger could start to become angry as well as frustrated. Frustration becomes anger and anger can become resentment which, in turn, can lead to conflict.
When can a conflict between two people or two teams or two organisations ever be productive?
Well, in the past I have always tended to see conflict at work, or at home or elsewhere, in a negative light. However, over time I have had to acknowledge, for example, that conflict does give me the opportunity to make real progress in my working relationships.
I can testify that people certainly get into conflict with me because what I do, or what I don't do, frustrates them. Others get into conflict with me because I have the type of personality that seems to frustrate or annoy them.
Once people have negative opinions about others the conflict has already started.
It may sound negative and unhelpful but a positive here is that the frustration and anger they feel brings energy with it which, in turn, can contribute to people feeling justified rather than guilty.
The good feelings that this energy brings can be turned into something positive or negative. It would be negative if it just caused the person to whinge and moan about the other person or team or organisation.
There has been some research that suggests gossiping and moaning (but doing nothing to resolve differences) has become the response of choice for perhaps half of the UK working population.
Personally, I do not doubt it because gossiping can also bring us sympathy and attention. However, let me set that aside for a moment and look at this in a more positive way. If it is true (and in my case it is true), that conflict and threat can bring energy, let us look at what else we can do with that energy
Here is a list of some of the opportunities that my increased energy might help me take up that directly relate to the conflict and resentment that has built up:
I could, if I want to, see a conflict as:
1. An opportunity for growth for me and the people involved (it might not be comfortable growth, so let's be grown-up about this)
2. A time in which problems can be solved creatively by looking together at a variety of alternatives (not necessarily the ones either of us have individually arrived at)
3. A chance to evaluate our situation objectively (we both might need to acknowledge that things have gone a bit too far - but I will if you will)
4. A time for us to increase our knowledge of one another (it might help if we start with our original intentions because people are often happier being judged by their intentions as opposed to their actions)
5. A chance to reveal our own unique ways of thinking, acting, and feeling (this could be very revealing and very helpful)
6. An opportunity to show understanding, respect, and acceptance of the unique ways in which others think, act, and feel (particularly if number 5 has been helpful).
7. A chance to play 'devil's advocate'' in regard to our own position, attitudes, and beliefs (thereby showing that we are prepared to try and see ourselves as others see us)
8. An opportunity to clarify our roles and functions in certain situations (again, it might help if we start with our original intentions)
9. An opportunity to clarify and define the rules of interaction in an attempt to strengthen our relationships (this would mean us agreeing what to do when we disagree with each other)
10. A process by which feelings ultimately can be aired openly and freely (this would mean us agreeing that we can express very strong feelings to each other without fear of repercussions - very grown-up indeed)
11. A time to talk and communicate openly and honestly, reducing hostility, anger, or misunderstanding in relationships (perhaps on a regular basis to keep on top of things)
12. An opportunity to clarify our expectations of others; a time to modify existing rules or sanctions based on our expectations (again perhaps on a regular basis)
In the next part of this article, Frank will look more closely at how conflict develops and how we might nip it in the bud. In part three. Frank will consider how we can prepare ourselves for a conflict that we perhaps cannot avoid.
Frank has been coaching and training groundsmen and greenkeepers for over twenty years. If you need further help with communicating difficult decisions you can reach Frank through Pitchcare.com or via the contact tab on his personal website www.franknewberry.com
1. This article is not about Anger Management. You should be aware that many people who have anger management problems are not aware that it is a real problem.
2. If you have a problem controlling your temper you should seek professional help. You could start with your GP who might refer you to a specialist (in confidence).
3. Failure to act on this problem could result in you getting a criminal record and doing serious emotional or physical harm to people at work and to members of your family.