As social creatures, we human beings tend to feel happiest when everyone is getting along. We feel most secure when we believe that others like us, and if we can avoid causing social strife we usually do. Unfortunately, this type of social predisposition can sometimes lead us in the wrong direction, especially when unwanted conflict rears its ugly head.
The Flight Instinct
Let’s be honest: when faced with interpersonal conflict, a lot of us have a flight instinct. It feels better – safer – to avoid conflict than to face it head-on, and, thus, conflict often remains unaddressed.
There are a few reasons this happens. We’re uncomfortable with the emotions related to conflict. We may even fear a loss in relationship or status. Sometimes we’re not sure how to address the situation, or there’s no protocol for resolving it. But avoiding conflict rarely pays off.
Conflict Is Personal – and It’s Business!
When a conflict triggers strong feelings there’s usually a deep personal need at the core of the problem, and when those needs are continuously threatened it can affect us both emotionally and physically. Loss of sleep, stress-related illnesses such as depression, obesity and heart disease can unfortunately be common outcomes to unresolved conflict.
As far as your business is concerned, issues related to mismanaged conflict cost business owners millions of dollars every year. In fact, effective conflict management has been identified as the #1 cost-containment strategy for leaders in the workplace. If not contained, unresolved conflict can lead to poor communication and poor decision-making, reduced morale and lower motivation, stress-related illnesses and even litigation. Conflict can escalate, involving more and more people, and if it goes unresolved it can negatively affect an entire organization.
Where to Begin If You Are Sensing Conflict
If conflict is swirling around you, sucking you in, or not going away on its own, it’s probably time to step back, assess the situation and take action.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Think of conflict resolution as an investment in your future. The sooner you take steps to resolve conflict, the less complicated it tends to be for all parties involved. Focus on the goal of creating a satisfying solution for everyone so you can be done with the problem and move on.
Be specific about what’s bothering you. Vague complaints are hard to work on. Make sure you communicate as clearly as possible what the issue is, and be ready to give one or two examples (don’t come with a list, or it might feel like an attack). Decide for yourself exactly what you are no longer willing to tolerate, and make sure you speak only for yourself (without allowing other people’s opinions and personal issues muddy the waters).
Is it really your conflict? Where is the conflict coming from? Sometimes we get sucked into other people’s conflicts, especially with people close to us—like a boss or a significant other. If the conflict isn’t one you can address yourself, you do not have to be part of it. Understand that you are choosing to be part of the conflict if you choose not to remove yourself from it.
Know when to bow out—If you’ve tried to resolve an issue but you just can’t come to an agreement, it’s okay to disengage and move on. If a conflict is obviously going nowhere and isn’t going to be resolved, you are under no obligation to continue allowing it to drag you down.
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.