Many organisations advocate the importance of having an ‘open and honest culture’ and even run training programmes on taking a constructive approach to conflict. But I find that people who attend such trainings and leave excited to put this new, empowering way of working into action often get shut down by their managers at first attempt. This can lead to a culture of avoiding conflict in challenging situations. Whilst avoiding conflict might seem like the least stressful option for everyone involved, it often leads to an escalation in conflict levels, increased stress and a demoralised work environment
The world is full of examples in which avoiding conflict has had a negative impact - even causing disasters that:
- Damage our natural environment
- Cost lives
- Impact innovation and creativity
On an individual level, this costs you:
- Energy – Sitting on conflict causes increasing levels of stress and anxiety that can range from a minor background niggle to an all absorbing internal dialogue that distracts you. It can affect your mood and the way you communicate. It can feel like a heavy burden and energy drain. Once this energy is released, your experience of yourself shifts almost immediately. You feel lighter. Your posture and physical appearance change in that instant. Expanding your ability to harness your conflict energy and direct it in a positive way will increase your sense of happiness and effectiveness in any situation.
- The ‘Pressure Cooker’ effect – Have you noticed when you sit on a situation or a relationship which puts you into a state of conflict, that each time you ‘meet’ that situation or relationship again, all the feelings of angst resurface…even if you have been able to put it away for a while? You may think you are masking your feelings well, but they have a way of leaking out. The person you are speaking to might not know why you appear the way you do – or why your tone sounds the way it does, but they will very likely experience that all is not well between you. This then starts a vicious cycle of increasing conflict energy until the pressure cooker can take it no more, and the energy/feelings get expressed in a way that is less than appropriate!
- Well-being and mental health – One in five Britons claim to suffer from workplace stress and half a million state that they have become ill as a result. Studies have shown that the consequent impact of stress and anxiety can affect your psychological and physical well-being - in some cases leading to a condition of depression, psychosomatic complaint and feelings of burnout. Given that stress at work is typically caused by how you manage challenging situations that either result from, or lead to conflict, it is essential that you deal with conflict situations in a constructive way.
- Focus – The psychological impact of conflict can diminish your capacity to focus when aiming to deal with challenging situations in a constructive, problem solving way. It takes your attention away from what is important to you and gets in the way of what you want to accomplish. Taking a proactive and strategic approach to managing conflict is an essential tool in your 21st Century professional toolkit.
- Progression – the effect that a failure to manage conflict productively has on your energy, well-being, mental health and focus, will inevitably affect your ability to deliver your best work. It will also affect your relationships with colleagues and stakeholders – one of the key drivers of professional success and personal happiness. Having an empowering context around conflict and challenging situations will enable you to stand out in your organisation as a confident and successful leader who positively handles any situation.
Conflict avoidance also costs your organisation. It leads to increase staff turnover; absenteeism; wasted time; sub-optimal decision making, increased grievances and complaints.
This International Women's Day, I am sending out a rallying call for all of us...whatever level we are at in the organisation to realise the value of speaking up.
Individually we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions…all day, every day
It can be scary and confronting to deal with conflict, so if you would like take some steps towards speaking up and want some tools and strategies that will help you get started, drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you my new ebook: "How To Manage Challenging Situations @Work".
In this e-book, you will gain:
- a way of re-contextualising conflict so that you can move beyond what stops you from dealing effectively with challenging situations
- Conflict Aikido strategies and tools for managing challenge and conflict in a constructive way
- an introductory approach to shifting from your current conflict energy to a more productive energy based on our Conflict Aikido techniques
Happy International Women's Day 20201!