How much time do you think a typical manager spends dealing with workplace conflicts? Would it surprise you to learn that managers typically spend 25-45% of their time dealing with workplace conflicts? Consider the consequences of unresolved conflict such as distraction from the work that needs to get done, employee turnover and harassment allegations. What are the potential business costs?
Our responses to conflict are hardwired into our brain. Some of us automatically engage (and may get verbally or physically aggressive when provoked) while others automatically withdraw.
Healthier engagement in conflict requires that we choose, rather than react. The seeds for developing a choice are found in self-awareness and mindfulness, both of which ameliorate our brain’s natural alarm response and provide that moment of re-evaluation.
So what is the opposite of destructive conflict? Perhaps it is curiosity and creativity — both products of focusing attention, opening our minds, and staying in the present. The powerful benefit of this shift is a real and true engagement, a real if uncomfortable connection, between two humans. In this engagement, the shift to problem-solving an issue, rather than judging a person is easier. Resolution uses reason and skill, and one can learn and become better at the engagement. The only way to become better at destructive conflict is to have a bigger bomb.
Fortunately, with practice and increased skill, we can all learn to resolve conflicts at work. Imagine how the workplace would change if managers are spending less time dealing with workplace conflicts and more time helping employees become more productive, enhancing innovation and creating a positive atmosphere.
Judith Sugg, Ph.D. is the co-director of AIM for Organizational Health in Portland, Oregon, where she combines her skills in psychology, mindfulness practices and business as a facilitator and coach. She is the author of Six-Word Lessons for Fearless Presenting and Six-Word Lessons for Transforming Conflict with Mindfulness.