Because if we address the conflict and actually TALK to the person about it….well, it could hurt their feelings, or it might make the situation worse, and it takes time and energy, and it probably won’t change anything anyway, and it will be uncomfortable, and it really doesn’t matter, or it could damage the relationship, and there’s really no urgency, and they might get mad, or we’re just waiting for the perfect moment, or we don’t have authority, plus, we’re tired. Its just. Not. Worth. It.
These thoughts are deceptively powerful, because they frame possible outcomes of a discussion in the negative. Meaning, here are all the reasons I should NOT address the conflict. Here are the myriad of reasons why I can’t/won’t/don’t want to address the situation.
These thoughts keep us stuck. Stuck in the problem, after all the conflict doesn’t necessarily go away. Do you really think these thoughts, stuck in our head don’t affect our actions and relationship with the other person? Yes, they do. And over time, they can result in even more damage to the relationship. And the environment.
Let’s look at Betsy and Bob. Betsy and Bob are co-workers. Bob said something snarky to Betsy in a meeting. She was surprised and insulted. After fuming for a period, she said something to Bob. [Paraphrased] “Like hey, what up Bob why did you dis me in that meeting?” Bob was like, [also paraphrased], “Oh don’t pay any attention to what I say. I was just joking around.”
Betsy didn’t buy it. The problem didn’t go away. And both Bob and Betsy knew it. And they both talked to others about it….”Can you believe he said that!?” and “Can you believe she did that!?” Oh, the drama! And the unresolved feelings, and the lack of trust. Oh, and over time, the lack of caring, the lack of attention paid to one another. The lack of teamwork, and collaboration.
All it takes is one little thing. But little things become big things. And most conflicts are so much more complicated that what Bob and Betsy are facing. No wonder we don’t want to deal with it.
The reality is that conflict doesn’t suck. The avoidance of conflict, and ongoing damage to relationships and to the work environment really suck. Because they are avoidable consequences.
This doesn’t mean we jump out of our beds, brimming with excitement because we FINALLY get to have that conversation that we’ve been avoiding for months. It just means that the feelings of trepidation and anxiety are normal, they’re part of the problem solving process. We opt to solve the problem; we opt for collaboration. We opt to talk and to listen.
Because resolving conflict constructively and effectively in a relationship actually builds trust. It shows us that we can navigate through our differences and come out the other side stronger.
What can you do to reframe the value of conflict?
- Think about an unresolved conflict.
- Consider the following questions:
o What is the current cost of this conflict to you? to the other person? to your team? to your organization? (think stress, avoidance, awkwardness, negative impact on quality of work, lack of collaboration, complaining)
o What are the consequences to you if the conflict goes unresolved? (think about credibility, trust, gossip)
o What are the benefits to you to resolve the conflict? (think about energy, strength, confidence, higher work quality, trust)
Yes, this is a kind of pro and con analysis. But ironically the more cons there are, the more we have at stake to NOT resolve the conflict. Have courage. Take the chance. Don’t be Betsy and Bob.
NOTE: For more insight on how you handle conflicts, consider the Everything DiSC Conflict assessment for you or your team. Everything DiSC Productive Conflict helps individuals curb destructive behaviors so that conflict can become more productive, ultimately improving workplace results and relationships. By increasing self-awareness around conflict behaviors, Everything DiSC Productive Conflict helps you effectively respond to the uncomfortable and unavoidable challenges of workplace conflict.