Leadership in Action Series
Dealing with Conflict:
Seven Tips for Keeping the Peace
B y Daniel Robin
If you happen to notice
yourself getting dug in or upset in the face of differing views, ask for a time out and step out of the content for a moment. Take a breath. Check to see if you are
presently moving toward your true goal. If not, or if the situation is just getting too uncomfortable, perhaps one of the
seven strategies would be helpful in turning your conflict into collaboration.
1. Define what the conflict is about. Studies on spousal
disputes showed that about 75% of the time, partners are fighting about different issues. Ask the other person "What’s
the issue?" then "What’s your concern here?" or "What do you feel we are fighting about?" Eventually ask "What do you
want to accomplish?" and "How can we work this out?"
2. It’s not you versus me; it’s you and
me versus the problem. The problem is the problem. It’s stupid to try to defeat the other side, because after losing,
the first thing the other side thinks is I need a rematch (and I’ll come back with more firepower so I can win
this time). If we win at the other person’s expense, we also pay a price in the long run. We have a world of rematches
of rematches of rematches. Don’t bring your adversaries to their knees, bring them to the table.
3. Identify your shared concerns against your one shared separation.
Deal with the conflict from where the relationship is strongest (where you agree), not weakest. It’s easier and thus
more likely to be effective if you move from areas of agreement to areas of disagreement, than the other way around. Find
common ground by meeting the other person where they are. Acknowledge their viewpoint. Stand on this common ground as a stronger
platform from which to work out respective differences.
4. Sort out interpretations from facts. Never ask people
who have been in a fight what happened. You’ll get their interpretation, their opinion, their version of what occurred.
Instead ask, "What did you do or say?" Then you get perceptions that are much closer to facts, not merely opinions.
Facts help clarify perceptions, which is basic to conflict dissolution.
5. Develop a sense of forgiveness. Reconciliation is impossible
without it. Many people are willing to bury the hatchet, but they insist on remembering exactly where they buried it —
in case they need it for the next battle. Let it go completely (or decide when you will). A brilliant definition of forgiveness:
"giving up all hope for a better past."
6. Learn to listen actively. Turn it around, from "when
I talk, people listen to me," to "when I listen, people talk to me." Habit Five in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly
Effective People is "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Take time to backtrack and verify what you hear.
Listen with the intent to understand; not with the intent to respond. Take the first step toward reconciliation by being willing
to listen with the intention to understand, and by being willing to listen first. This unblocks the logjam of right/wrong
thinking, of ego and power struggle, of compassion over fear.
7. Purify your intentions, purify your heart. You can’t
get conflict and violence out of other people without first getting it out of your own soul. We can’t eliminate the
weapons of the world without first getting them out of our own hearts. Consider what you really want and find the place
inside you that can lead you to it. Peace begins at home. Peace begins with you.
DEALING WITH CONFLICT
Handling Conflict in the Workplace Constructively
By: Beverly Smallwood
Conflict is a natural part
of any team or relationship. It can be healthy or unhealthy for the relationship, depending on how it is handled. When conflict
is handled constructively, it promotes growth and problem solving.
The body builder knows that
resistance actually grows and strengthens muscles. Resistance can have the same effect on teams. In teams, that resistance
comes from the natural and necessary differences in such areas as background, training, personality style, values, pace, or
priority. Blended together, these differences can create a balanced team represented by all perspectives.
On the other hand, when
differences are judged or stereotyped by team members, the assets potentially gained from diversity become liabilities. Resolving
differences constructively is a key team leadership skill.
As people live and work
together every day, they bring their histories... their past experiences, their family and social influences, and their work
experiences. From all of these sources, they've formed attitudes and beliefs, which get played out on the workplace stage
Some common areas of conflict
1. Preferred methods
Some people think that "my way is the right way." Even those who are not so rigid often secretly harbor
the belief that they have learned the most efficient and effective ways to do things, and that others should really listen
to them. The fact is, there are many right ways to get to a desired outcome.
2. Sharing of resources
In today's environment where people are being asked to do more with less, there is often conflict over
people, budgets, tools of technology, and even supplies. When the resources are limited, conflict is often a by-product.
Various people in the workplace are responsible for accomplishing their job tasks, and they are often
on different timetables than those around them. Often people mistakenly think that others should share their priorities.
4. Personality style differences
People have different personality and social styles, all of which are important for effective
teamwork. However, even good intentions often cannot prevent the misunderstandings that can occur between people who think
differently, approach tasks differently, and communicate differently.
5. Power struggles
The underlying need for control and power is at the root of many conflicts in the workplace. Who will
have what information? Whose work area is the most spacious or prestigious? Whose opinion counts most in the final solution?
These are fertile fields for conflict.
Underlying every serious conflict is a value struggle. People in the workplace judge their own behavior as well
as those of others by what they believe should be done, by the values that they hold. The lack of trust runs most deeply when
the individuals involved perceive that the others involved come from an opposing system of values.
Recognizing these sources
of conflict in the workplace is the first step toward being able to do something about them. Constructive discussion of these
differences can build bridges over which ongoing dialog and work can freely pass.
Conflict Prevention and Resolution In the Context of Good Governance
If one looks at the
sources of conflict that form the bases of present-day concerns as well as those projected in the medium-term, good governance
systems and methods will have to focus upon four critical areas. These four areas overlap in many respects. Nevertheless,
each reflects a body of work that will guide this portion of the survey:
conflict – combines the issue of identity with that of inequality, as discussed in Section 2//a.
To that extent, it incorporates aspects of power inequalities and ethnicity. However, the reason for maintaining "deep-rooted
conflict" as a category separate from the others has to do with what are often the historic and emotionally charged dimensions
of the cause of conflict
inequalities and asymmetries – can be deep-rooted or – at least in terms of rectifying certain sorts of imbalances
– amenable to relatively quick change. The term, as suggested in Section 2//b, can incorporate the
sources of long-term as well as short-term economic inequality to asymmetries stemming from gender, race, religion, etc.
conflict – sources of ethnic conflict, as described in Section 2//c can be "deep-rooted", a reflection
of a wide range of power inequalities as well as a direct or indirect consequence of state collapse or regional power shifts.
In any event, it is an area well reflected in the conflict literature, and one which poses perhaps the greatest challenge
for governance and
in a fragmented world – the prospect that conventional state authority will weaken dramatically and that the sources
and centres of influence will be fragmented and disjointed suggests, as discussed in Section 2//g, that new
forms of governance will have to be considered to meet the demands of a more turbulent world.
Yet, before embarking
upon a review of the governance-conflict related literature that pertains to these four themes, there are two abiding issues
that deserve consideration. The first concerns the inter-relationship between governance, conflict management, conflict resolution
and process. The second concerns what might be called governance-conflict related sequencing, viz, the conceptual and practical
distinction between forms of governance in pre-conflict situations as well as during and in the aftermath of conflict.
Governance, Conflict-Management or Conflict Resolution
The relatively young
but nevertheless intense history of conflict studies poses a quandary for all who seek to pursue it. Is one of the fundamental
purposes of conflict analysis to find ways to manage conflict or to resolve it? To a great extent, the turbulent events of
the 1960s led a growing number of scholars to question the whole premise of "conflict management". Conflict management was
synonymous with the "diplomatic art" designed to avoid, by-pass, suppress or temporarily deal with conflict situations. It
did not, however, address the very causes of conflict, nor was it regarded as leading to permanent resolution of conflict.
Deutsch and Hoglund were all very cognisant of this "diplomatic failing".
the growing doubts about the value of merely managing conflict, some important works emerged that reflected ways that organisations
could effectively come to grips with the immediate problems of diverting violence and upheaval. Pirage’s Managing
Political Conflict, though not regarded as a strong work, at least outlines ways that institutions can respond to
potential conflict. Thomas and Bennis’s reader, while mainly concerned with conflict within organisations, also
is important for the links that it makes between structures and conflict management. Both Nordlinger as well as Nardin are
interesting for another light that they shed on the relationship between organisations and conflict, namely, that governments
are not merely "conflict managers" but also parties to domestic conflict.
In any event, conflict
resolution was the ultimate objective, according to Coser in 1970. One needed to move beyond avoiding or suppressing conflict,
and into the realm of dealing with the very causes of conflict. The inter-relationship between organisational structures,
more often than the structures of government, and conflict resolution began to rapidly emerge from the 1970s onwards. Sherif’s
conception of "super-ordinate goals", Nye’s Peace in Parts, Mouton’s analysis of conflict in industry
as well as that of Douglas reflect the determination to relate the ways that organisations function to the ways that conflict
can be resolved.
For a period of time,
the case for greater attention to conflict resolution rather than conflict management seemed not only logical, but even took
on a mantle of great moral merit. However, the complexities of an emerging number of crises – from Cyprus
to Lebanon, from the Korean peninsula to Honduras
and Nicaragua – increasingly reflected the complexities
that resolution, per se, entailed. Conflict management as part of a process towards conflict resolution became an emerging
spectre in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Azar, Anstey, Fisher and Lederach represent a growing number of scholars who regarded
conflict management as a partial – and acceptable – step towards resolution.
Harris and Reilly
make the point using a medical analogue: "…Any doctor
will rightly argue
that treating symptoms is a vital humanitarian act, bringing short-term relief of suffering. A negotiation process that fails
abysmally in its attempt to design a long-term settlement, but achieves a six month cease fire, has saved many lives." While
there are those who see dangers in the use of such short-term bandages [eg, "perpetuating an injustice"], the key is in the
concept of "process". The relationship between governance and process is that conflict resolution and prevention need not
be linked initially to specific systems and structures but towards a process by which the cause of conflict can be resolved
as the structures of governance can evolve.
The process might
begin with an acceptance by an official body that there actually may be a problem within the state between different ethnic
groups or with the resource allocation procedures of the state, itself. Esman in Ethnic Politics suggests how
the very acknowledgement of grievances that might cause conflict is already a major public policy step in the right direction.
The point is that governance structures or systems have to be able or willing to begin the process. Often the answer to such
vexing problems is not to specify solutions in constitutional or institutional terms, but rather to acknowledge that the problem
exists in the first instance.
To that extent, conflict
management and process inter-relate. The former may be used by bodies trying to prevent and resolve conflict as intermediate
steps towards a longer-term process that can result in conflict resolution. In this regard, Leftwich’s comment that
it is not the system of government that matters nor is it a state’s technical and administrative arrangements which
determine capability and competence. Rather what matters is what earlier was referred to as "the centrality of politics."
Governance and Conflict-Related Phases
To what extent does
one need different forms of governance to deal with different phases of conflict prevention or conflict resolution? In other
words, are there governance systems and structures that are more appropriate and suitable to deal with pre-crisis situations
than with conflict or post-conflict situations? On the whole, there is little distinction made in the literature between types
of governance and levels or stages of conflict. That by no means suggests that the pressures on governance systems and structures
are the same in pre-conflict stages as they are during conflict or post-conflict phases. The lack of such a distinction could
on the other hand suggest that, while there are different technical and tactical issues raised in different phases of potential
or actual conflict, the broad systemic or strategic choices about appropriate governance are not affected.
In the wake of the
Rwandan genocide, the fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia
and a host of other fundamental state transformations, there has emerged an extensive literature on "post-conflict recovery".
Of crucial importance in many of these works is the type of governance structures and systems that should develop in the aftermath
of what often has been horrific intra-state violence.
orientation and the attention given to post-conflict forms of governance are both understandable and important. If a society
has to rebuild after suffering the trauma and destruction of lives, infrastructure and property, one critical factor for recovery
will be the authority through which international aid as well as local resources will be managed. In addition, a focal point
will be needed to initiate, implement and monitor such post-conflict activities as demobilisation, restoration of basic services,
reintegration and re-development planning.
To that extent, post-conflict
recovery creates a special set of governance and conflict-related issues. These issues in a very basic sense are technical
and tactical. Patricia Weiss Fagen has identified a number of works that reflect the particular problems and circumstances
that governments as well as civic society face in conflict’s aftermath. Perhaps two of the most intractable problems
that post-conflict governments must face are those of demobilisation and public security, subjects on which both UNDP and
the World Bank have expended considerable effort and resources. These problems are compounded by the ways that post-conflict
governments as well as other civil and community groups relate to the military. As Nicole Ball and others have noted, this
relationship becomes a critical factor in the evolution of governance systems and governments’ relations to populations
The relationship between
the military, structures of government and governance also often impact directly or indirectly upon police and security forces,
human rights and judicial and legal systems as well. Equally as important are the particular economic circumstances that bedevil
governments in the aftermath of violent conflict. As Weiss Fagen notes, "A necessary first step to generating post-economic
recovery is to understand and be able to calculate the cost of war, in terms of human resources and property", and, in this
regard, she refers to Frances Stewart’s article on "War and Underdevelopment: Can Economic Analysis Help Reduce the
Yet, while such specific
post-conflict problems are so much a part of the reality of a growing number of states, the approach taken in this survey
is that such problems are part of a sub-set of a broader set of issues. In other words, deep-rooted conflict, power imbalances,
ethnicity and eventually multicentrism are constants to which systems and structures of governance must relate at any point
in the cycle of violence, ie, prevention, mitigation, resolution.
While technical and
tactical facets of pre-conflict, conflict and post-conflict situations may require different approaches at different times,
what is needed from a governance perspective to prevent or resolve conflicts remains relatively consistent at any stage. Hence,
this survey does not distinguish between phases of conflict and types of governance required. It assumes that "good governance"
relates to all conflict phases, or, conversely, that good governance effectively avoids or mitigates the sorts of situations
that create or perpetuate conflict.
That said, there is
no doubt that "good governance" or appropriate systems and structures would be sensitive to the types of techniques that would
address various conflict phases. Here, however, the issue is one of a sequence of appropriate conflict resolution or prevention
techniques, and not one of a sequence of appropriate governance systems and structures.
Governance and Four Key Areas of Conflict
The literature that
relates to governance and conflict prevention or resolution in the final analysis focuses upon the four areas noted above:
[i] deep-rooted conflict [ii] power inequalities and asymmetries [iii] ethnicity and [iv] multicentricity. Each of these factors
tests the capacity of governance systems and structures to reconcile contending societal interests, and each in combination
or individually explain why some government systems have worked [ie, avoided or resolved conflict] and why others have fomented
or been unable to avoid conflict.
[a] Deep-rooted conflict.
There are few exceptions
to the general assumption that democratic governance is the single most appropriate cornerstone upon which to build a system
of conflict prevention or resolution. In part this conclusion is based upon the assumption that democracy "is a system by
which conflicts in a society are allowed to formulate, find expression and be managed in a sustainable way, via institutional
outlets such as political parties and representative parliaments, rather than being suppressed or ignored."
This assumption is
particularly relevant when addressing the forces of deep-rooted conflict. There needs to be a system in which the accumulated
resentments that arise from perceived misallocation of resources, be it land rights or rights to mineral resources, discrimination
on the basis of gender, religion or race as well as the other myriad sources of deeply felt grievances can be aired. In the
context of deep-rooted conflict, democratic institutions are more relevant for their potential ability to initiate a process
for conflict prevention or resolution than for actually resolving conflicts, per se.
At the core of initiating
a democratically based process that will address deep-rooted conflict are the issues of forms of representation, power-sharing
and ultimately structure. To a very significant extent, such issues bring out the strengths and weaknesses of various governance
concepts noted earlier in Section III/a-c, under the Conceptual Parameters of the Art of Governance.
For example, if the process of managing deep-rooted conflict is so dependent upon mechanisms to articulate profoundly felt
grievances, should this be through consociational or integrative structures? And, to what extent do the structural consequences
of certain types of governance institutions perpetuate deeply felt grievances?
Two examples taken
from recent works which inter-relate governance and conflict resolution/prevention suggest that there are various power sharing
and institutional options available. However, both also demonstrate that in the final analysis appropriate choice is dependent
upon the characteristics, peoples, history and desires of those engaged in the conflict resolution/prevention process:
Approaches to Power
co-operate after elections to form multiethnic coalitions and manage conflicts, groups are autonomous, minorities are protected
encouraged to create coalitions before elections, creating broadly inclusive but majoritarian governments
or "grand "coalitions", minority veto, proportionality in allocation of civil service positions and public funds, group autonomy
and devolution of power, promotion of intraethnic competition, inducements for interethnic cooperation, policies to encourage
alternative social alignments, managed distribution of resources
and practices to promote these principles and effects
government, proportional reservation of seats, proportional representation electoral system
vote pooling, electoral systems, presidents elected by "supermajority"
of the approach
group firm guarantees for the protection of their interests
politicians with incentives for moderation – "coalitions of commitment"
of convenience", elites may pursue conflict rather than try to reduce it, communal groups may not defer to their leaders,
system relies on constraints against immoderate policies
of whole-country empirical examples of working systems, assumptions that politicians respond to incentives and citizens will
vote for parties not based on their own group
An Executive Government
- Inclusiveness [can
include all groups within the executive
- Flexibility [parliamentary
coalitions can change without recourse to elections
- Checks and balances
[executive is dependent upon the confidence of the legislature]
- Empirically associated
with democratic persistence
- Can be a unifying
- Highly accountable
and identifiable to voters
- Greater degree of
choice for voters
- Stability and continuity
- Can combine advantages
of both presidentialism and parliamentarianism
- "Mutual consensus"
- Possibility of executive
deadlocks, stalemates and immobilism
- Problems of accountability
as decisions are taken by the collective cabinet
- Lack of governing
- Centralisation of
authority in one person
- Inherently majoritarian
- Empirically associated
with democratic failure
- Dangers of deadlock
between president and parliament
- Divisions of governing
power can be unclear
The alternative forms
of power-sharing arrangements and government structures laid out in the examples above already presume agreement on participation
in negotiations or discussions on participating in elections. This introduces a whole spectrum of related issues, such as
the question of representatives, the dilemma of divided parties, the dilemma of power-imbalances and even ways to approach
and initiate talks with party representatives. It also presumes that one is agreed on the forms of elections that will take
Regarding the often
inter-related issues of initial representation, divided parties, power-sharing and ways to initiate negotiations, there is
a wide array of works that reflect for the most part the results of practical, "real life" steps towards developing governance
structures that can resolve or prevent conflict stemming from deep-rooted grievances. A few examples will suggest the breadth
of the available literature.
[b] Power Inequalities and Asymmetries.
As with deep-rooted
conflict, the governance options for addressing power inequalities and asymmetries are very similar. The reason is clearly
that in so many respects deeply-held grievances that result in deep-rooted conflict are often the result of structural power
imbalances. They are asymmetries that are assumed and built into systems that usurp and dominate the rights and access of
That said, it nevertheless
is worth focussing upon power inequalities and asymmetries because there is an important literature that has sought to bring
some of the more blatant – if not universal – examples of power inequalities into the realm of promoting good
governance. Gender is the mainstay of this sort of analysis. In that regard, it is interesting that race and religion, seemingly
two of the most blatant reflections of potential societal asymmetries, rarely emerge in the governance context.
on the Haitian revolution as well as his work on the "sports/war intertext" introduce the theme of race in the context of
potential conflict and governance in a more Marxist sense. Similarly, Rodney and Sivanandan introduce race as a category of
power inequality along Marxist lines. However, there is no literature that inter-relates governance and power inequalities
with the same depth as that involved in gender symmetries. One reason for this may be because "ethnicity" now subsumes religious
as well as racial categories. In that context, it is interesting to note that McGarry and O’Leary as editors of The
Politics of Ethnic Conflict Regulation incorporate various sorts of religious conflict in India, the former Yugoslavia
and in Northern Ireland under the rubric of "ethnicity".
while never seeming to have been the source of conflict in modern history, at least serves as a possible platform or test
case for governance approaches to offset other sorts of power inequalities. Gasa’s view, though, is even more limited
than that. He feels that gender inequalities should be addressed as a bi-product of addressing far more fundamental asymmetries,
an opportunity for good governance to deal not only with conflict but also injustice.
Yet, there are perhaps
more important lessons to be learned from the literature that links governance with the power inequality of gender. One such
lesson is that, as in all situations of power inequality, the key is to have the issue, the asymmetry, itself, recognised.
To what extent can focal points be established within institutions that can keep injustices, such as gender and other inequalities,
on the agenda? In what ways can non-governmental structures effectively promote anti-discrimination or related measures that
offset power inequalities, and what sort of government system will be responsive to such special pleadings?
[c] Ethnic Conflict and Governance.
Perhaps the single
most important difference between groups that are unempowered or hold deeply held grievances and ethnic groupings, is that
the latter for the most part seek to break away from the state or at least the form of state governance to which that ethnic
group is tied. Unless governance structures can reconcile what Shehadi has called "the drive towards ethnic-national self-determination",
the ultimate objective of ethnic groups in conflict is to change the basis of their relations with the state or states.
Such ethnic determination
poses a host of complex issues for governments and governance structures. Governments that ignore even the most radical demands
of a states’ ethnic minorities are in danger of losing their legitimacy. Thus, the literature concerned with ethnicity
and governance more often than not is concerned with ways either to meet the demands of ethnic groupings through major public
policy initiatives, accede to certain kinds of territorial arrangements or alter constitutional structures in ways that will
satisfy the self-identity objectives of the ethnic grouping.
Sisk maintains that
when it comes to meeting the demands of ethnic groupings through a public policy process, "the answer to such vexing problems
is not to specify their solution in constitutional terms, but to set up new institutions and procedures to which all groups
can subscribe." One such way is to ensure that an all encompassing human rights agenda is established with institutional force
to promote compliance. This has been seen by several analysts as an acceptable basis for dealing directly with certain kinds
of ethnic demands.
Ethnic demands can
also be met through territorial concessions. In some respects, the recent peaceful separation of Czechoslovakia
into two distinct entities reflects what might be regarded as a most positive though extreme approach for dealing with ethnic
territorial/constitutional demands. Confederal or polycommunal federal arrangements can be created, leaving ethnic groups
with their own territory but within a larger state construct. It has benefits, according to Duchacek, as well as serious drawbacks,
according to Hermans. A key variable for governments willing to take the longer term view is the extent to which such semi-autonomous
territorial concessions can be linked with other parts of the state through functional, eg, trade, economic and infrastructural,
The sorts of constitutional
issues that need to be addressed to deal with the threat or resolution of ethnic conflict include many of the issues noted
in the chart on Approaches to Power-Sharing, above. However, within those structures decisions about law and
adjudication, education and language as well as security issues and "international relations" will all have to be agreed under
the heading of "constitutional issues", particularly within a confederal or polycommunal federal system.
[d] Multicentrism in a fragmented world.
The nature of violence
and conflict in certain respects may be changing, in other respects becoming more intense. At the same time, the relevance
of present models of government and governance for the future is being increasingly subject to scrutiny and in many instances
undergoing very fundamental re-evaluation. The issue, as Simai stresses in The Future of Global Governance,
is that there is very little certainty about the consequence of major transformations upon the global system and their impact
upon present state systems and structures, let alone their effect upon the burgeoning population that all anticipate.
The speculation about
the consequence of change proceeds mainly from the area of technology driven economic globalisation. Hopkins and Wallerstein
have mapped out potential broad social consequences of economic change up through 2025, and Kennedy has in a fairly linear
sort of way suggested what might be, as the world steps over the millennial boundary. Chatham House has taken a very practical
look at economic globalisation with something less than cosmic vision, but nevertheless Chatham House provides a very sound
practical picture of the sorts of policy fragmentation to which Rosenau alludes from his more global perspective.
Duffield has paid
considerable attention to "post-modern conflict" and its impact upon warlords, "post-adjustment states" and private protection.
He, like an increasing number of people, concludes that the "changing competence of the nation-state, especially the emergence
of non-state centres of authority, is an important feature of post-modern conflict." For organisations that are concerned
about governance, particularly of a liberal-democratic kind, and conflict, his analysis is particularly apposite:
In both the North and the
South, new supranational, international and local actors have qualified this competence. While both northern and southern
rulers face this problem, the opportunities open to each differ. The former have increasingly formed competitive states and
entered into de jure or de facto transnational regional arrangements in an attempt to retain and expand the
formal economy. Southern rulers have also used the opportunities of globalisation to rework political authority by forming
new external and internal alliances. In contrast to regional integration, however, illiberal processes of political exclusion,
including ethnic or religious particularism, are more prevalent. Rather than curb such trends, democratisation has frequently
contributed to this development.
Improve Your Ability to Handle Workplace Conflict:
An Interview with Judy Ringer
Recently our local newspaper interviewed me on
the subjects of workplace conflict, difficult people, and how to manage them more effectively.
Q. What are some typical breakdowns in the workplace?
wouldn’t call them breakdowns, but conflicts. A typical conflict is what is sometimes called “triangulation.”
One person is upset with their coworker, and instead of speaking with the co-worker about their concern, they talk to someone
else about it or many others about it. Office gossip starts this way. Different work styles, misunderstanding of roles, jumping
to conclusions – these are all ways that conflicts get started.
Q. Why do people keep falling into the same
traps in the workplace?
training is insufficient. We’ve been trained to deal with conflict in ways that are not useful. A typical myth about
conflict is that it is negative. And so we see people around us either avoiding it or acting out their feelings. The triangulation
example demonstrates this myth. I’m afraid to speak directly to
you about a conflict, but I will talk to others
about it. And so the problem doesn’t go away. In fact it often gets worse. We keep falling into these traps because
we see others doing it that way. In spite of the fact that it doesn’t work, it’s what we know so we keep doing
it, hoping for a different result. Of course
that doesn’t work, and we keep having the
Q. Please give some examples of disrespectful
is an important question. It helps to understand that behavior that appears disrespectful to me may not appear the same to
you. Did she mean to be disrespectful? Or is she just tired this morning? Or shy? Or preoccupied? (The list goes on.) On the
other hand, ignoring a new supervisor’s request to perform a task differently can show disrespect, especially if you
don’t communicate about it. Eye rolling, sighing, clicking your tongue, giggling conspiratorially with another coworker
– these often show a
Sometimes we don’t know we’re being
disrespectful. It’s important that new employees understand the work culture and what does and does not constitute disrespect.
Social skills are learned. One of the supervisor’s jobs is to help employees understand when their actions are perceived
as disrespectful and to give them alternatives. A good supervisor is a good teacher.
Q. How do I know if my boss is a tormentor or
That’s up to you. You decide. You have that power. Our most difficult situations, coworkers, and bosses can turn out
to be teachers if we choose to learn something about why we react to them. What would it take to change my attitude from making
a judgment about them to being curious about them, or being curious about my reaction to their behavior?
And I don’t mean to say that the boss is
necessarily right or that his behavior is beyond reproach. What I mean is that I have to make some choices about how to handle
what’s coming at me from this person. I could talk to him about the impact his behavior is having on me, the team, and
our ability to get the job done. Or I could complain to others. Do I have the awareness and skill to notice my resistance,
check out which of my buttons are being pushed, and make a wise decision about how to proceed? Maybe I find that if I change
slightly I can regain some confidence and equanimity and be able to handle the situation more effectively. This is how a tormentor
becomes a teacher. As I learn about myself I begin to have new options.
Q. How can an employee create a win-win situation
with a tormentor?
begin by being curious. What would make a reasonable, rational person behave this way? The answer is usually something you
can identify with. For example, an authoritarian boss usually has values around perfection, looking good, being in control,
and getting the job done correctly. I certainly can identify with these intentions. The way the boss acts out the intention
may be rough. But now you have the basis for a conversation. You’re entering in a more positive way, and you can talk
about commonalities. Another way to create win-win solutions is by asking useful questions of the other person.
What is important to them in this conflict? What
would they like the outcome to be? One of the best questions I ever raised in a conflict was to ask the other person what
caused them to be so upset with me, and what I might have done differently. She was happy to tell me. I learned a lot.
Q. Are employers becoming more aware of what
it takes to build an
I think in general – in and out of the workplace – we’re becoming more aware of the need and the skills
to create stronger relationships, and employers are asking employees to step up and practice them.
Q. Was there a specific event in the 1980s that
drew you to this line of
work? What business were you in before?
a specific event, but a general feeling that life at work could and should be easier, more fun, and more personally rewarding.
We spend too much of our time at work to have it be painful. At the time I was the co-owner of a real estate company, and
I wanted our workplace to be an environment where workers and customers felt happy to be there and where there was an open
flow of dialogue – a learning environment. A place that would make me wake up wanting to go to work in the morning.
How could we jointly create a place where we could communicate about misunderstandings and miscommunications?
How could we have fun working together and serving
Q. How has the training profession changed in
the past 10 years? Where
do you see it headed?
people are becoming more aware of the importance of learning how to handle communication, conflict and relationships. I think
of myself as a trainer, facilitator, communication coach, and helper. I don’t see myself going in and telling people
what to do. I like to find out what they need. Where is the struggle, and how can I help to facilitate the learning. I think,
generally, the profession is going there, too. And I can only speak for myself.
Q. Your Web site says that you have worked with
the National Institutes of Health, Maine Medical Center, York Hospital, Portsmouth
Naval Shipyard, The American Red Cross, The National Education Association, and the States of New Hampshire
and Vermont. What issues do large
businesses typically face?
same ones that small businesses face, and the same ones we face in our personal relationships: How do I have the conversation
I need to have? How do I manage myself in order to be most effective? How do I continue to direct my energy toward a positive
Goals might be different – a more cohesive
team, a strategy to work though a difficult merger or acquisition, or the answer to a persistent client complaint. And yet
it always comes down to social interaction, doesn’t it? In order to solve the problem, I have to manage my reactions,
decide what to do about them, and perhaps talk to you about them. If I think I don’t like you there’s a barrier
that makes communication difficult. So I need to figure it out.
Q. What are some tips to handle strong emotions
in the workplace?
by acknowledging the emotions. Take a minute and take stock of your own emotions. Name them. Are you angry, sad, happy, surprised,
disappointed? Usually there are many emotions happening simultaneously. Acknowledge as many as you can. Next, identify the
underlying causes. Often there’s a story connected to the emotion that’s causing you to react but has nothing
to do with the current event. If you can identify the story (usually an old, familiar one), you can bring some awareness to
the situation. The awareness tells you how much of the emotion has to do with the current event and how much of it is from
the past event. Once you know, you can choose how to utilize the energy. For example, with a huge emotion, you might be tempted
to hide it or to act it out on the other person. When you get a sense about why the event is so charged, you’ll regain
some balance and be able to make a wiser decision about how to (or even if you want to) have a conversation with the person
instead. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings as well. Consider what story they might be telling themselves, and
inquire about it. For example: “You sound upset (acknowledgment). Are you? Have I said something that caused you to
react this way (inquiry)?” It just takes practice, like anything else.
Q. Can you give five tips to managing a difficult
books on this topic, though they may speak differently about them, identify the same basic skills for handling difficult
1. Start with yourself. Acknowledge your feelings
and gain control of them. Breathe. Identify your desired outcome for the conversation and try to guess at theirs. What do
they want? What do you want?
2. Be curious. Inquire. Find out how they see the
situation. Ask useful questions and listen. Don’t judge or make assumptions. Don’t take it personally. This is
their story and they can tell it whatever way they want. Support them.
3. Acknowledge their story and their feelings.
Validate their concerns. This doesn’t mean you agree. It means that you hear them. It’s a tremendous gift and
moves the conversation in a useful direction. You get a gift, too. You learn a lot about what’s important to this person,
which will be helpful when you begin to look for solutions.
4. Advocate for yourself. What is your story? What
are they not seeing? Explain how the situation looks from your perspective. Go slowly and don’t assume.
5. Build solutions based on new understanding.
As you begin to listen and talk, information comes out that will help you co-create effective solutions with your partner.
© 2004 Judy Ringer, Power & Presence Training
About the Author: Judy Ringer is a conflict and communication skills trainer,
black belt in aikido, and sole owner of Power & Presence Training and Portsmouth Aikido. To learn more and sign up for
free tips and articles like these, visit http://www.JudyRinger.com Note: You’re welcome to reprint this article as long as it remains complete
and unaltered (including the “about the author” info at the end), and you send a copy of your reprint to email@example.com.
Workplace Violence: Dealing With an Angry Employee
Violence in the workplace is an increasingly common yet poorly understood problem.
But experts agree that workplace tensions reflect what is happening in the society at large. Stress, personal problems and
the uncertainty of modern life have left many workers feeling alone, vulnerable and ill-equipped to cope with conflict—now
more than ever. When anger is unresolved, the chances of violence increase.
Recognizing the early signs of a problem before it becomes a disaster is the key to preventing workplace violence.
Although there are no clear-cut indicators that tell us when anger will turn to violence, there are signs that tell us when
anger is unresolved and becoming destructive.
Anger is a normal emotional response to stress, a perceived threat or conflict. Reasonable people can disagree,
sometimes vehemently, without ever threatening or intimidating another person. In fact, research shows that expressing anger
appropriately is healthy—like releasing the pressure in a tire that has been overinflated. But if the pressure remains
too high and the tire is driven at high speeds, a blowout is inevitable.
Rarely does a single event send a happy, cooperative worker over the edge into violence.
And while we seldom know all that is going on in our co-workers’ lives, stress is the common denominator for workplace
violence. It usually comes from:
serious personal problem that has made its way to the workplace
or threats to job status, such as a new assignment or supervisor
personality conflict with a manager or another employee
the cause, angry workers generally progress through predictable and sequential stages of increasingly negative attitudes and
behaviors. The four stages of anger are:
struggle, excessive arguing
criticism, malicious gossip and sarcasm
vandalism and violence
Let’s say you have just been promoted as the new manager in a new department. After
several weeks, you observe that one of your employees frequently challenges your decisions. You are aware that this employee
was expecting to get the promotion that you received. This individual is hurt, angry and choosing to deal with it by arguing
and power struggling with you (stage 2). Consequently, one of two things may happen:
will get worse—he will progress into stage 3 and become more covert with his anger via gossip and sarcasm, which will
escalate the situation.
will get better—he will quit power struggling, and slide back into stage 1. This is a sign that things are improving.
By understanding the stages of anger, you can assess if the strategies you choose to implement are making the situation
better or worse.
you can do
are concerned about an employee’s anger, try to place him in one of the stages of anger. That will give you a baseline
of understanding the present situation—so that you can create appropriate intervention strategies—and a way to
measure if strategies to remedy the situation are working or not. Second, try to pinpoint a time when things weren’t
so tense. This may offer a clue as to what may be contributing to the present situation. For example, a recent divorce or
an expected promotion that did not happen may be contributing factors.
Remember, whenever there is a potential for violence, talk with an employee assistance program (EAP) professional.
They are trained in counseling, conflict resolution and communications, and can discuss options to help you develop a strategy
to effectively handle the situation.