Updated: Feb 15
As its said – “conflict is inevitable, combat is optional”.
How often have we been in situations when a brewing conflict has made us nervous, and the general thought that has mostly crossed our mind is to take an alternate route or to lookout for knee-jerk steps to resolve the conflict by patchworks, rather than facing it head on? How often have we found the old text book answers about dealing with conflicts as out of place in practice?
In hindsight, when I look back at my career, which primarily spans across banking and technology, during the formative years of work, I shall not be ashamed to confess that I hated conflict and I would rather get along and play nice rather than take the shots. The usual response would be to make myself believe as if nothing was wrong or pretend it’s someone else’s problem. However, with every difficult situation, I have inched towards believing with conviction that in order to lead authentically there is no better option than to embrace conflict and that very conflict has within it the opportunity for positive change. The key learning has been that, handling conflict is different from resolving conflict. Often, after the dust has settled, and assuming that such conflicting situations were handled well, it has always helped strengthen relationships between the intervening parties than how it would have otherwise been.
And therefor here are my 4 key thoughts in simple words to get a good grip on conflicts which are very common at workplaces:
Embrace the danger in expectation of newer opportunities - Learnt from a friend of mine that the Chinese characters for conflict has both danger and opportunity en-grained. Metaphorically, I am sure if we were to always be ready to embrace the worst-case scenario that may arise as a consequence, and instead of dreading to traverse that path, the effort is more directed towards strategizing clearly on how to handle conflict, at the end we shall always find newer opportunities.
The line between “right” and “wrong” is very blurred – My father who served the defense, while explaining higher order conflicts between nations or political ideologies often said that “human minds are naturally wired to always take the right decision”. Which means that no one is biologically wrong when they are taking a decision. Because if he thought he was wrong, he would never do what he was doing. In other words, every action is triggered as a consequence of one’s decisions, that is always right from the point of view of the person who is calling the shots at that point of time, though it may be wrong from another person’s point of view. And therefore, its important to not always hold our own point of view in higher regard than the other person’s point of view. In practicing empathy its important to realize that someone else’s point of view is as valid for them, as mine is for me. And this leads to the 3rd key.
Listen first - Both being right from their own point of views, it becomes hard for the brain to hold two contradicting thoughts which results into conflict. In my experience just, the act of listing well and then summarizing the understanding from the other persons point of view often helps resolve half the conflict. And the reason is quite obvious - As humans we are more likely to operate from our rational brain centers once there is a feeling that we are being understood.
Sharing one’s point of view - Seeking first to understand others and then be understood disarms conflict and creates the potential thrust to connect. There is no denying that the other person will be able to hear us better, because they have felt being heard and understood.
In conclusion, conflicts for me have always been a breeding ground to strengthen relationships at work. When I look back to the most difficult situations, me or my teams have faced because of conflicts, it will not be wrong to say that if such situations had not come our way, business would have just been usual, those key turning points would not have come, tough decisions would not have been made and relationships with people would have just hung where they were.
So do we manufacture conflict to reap the benefits? Of-course that’s not the point being made here. It’s about practicing the rights skills. To be the key person in any difficult situation, playing that critical role in handling conflict, and turn the situation in one’s favor, rather than being fearful of the consequences of failure. The joy of being in control always kicks in the needed serotonin and create that needed urge to repeat the act again under similar conditions. Because our brains are wired to feel important about our achievements under difficult situations.
To summarize - Next time there is a situation staring at our face, let it be a choice between how we want to see conflict as - Like a "volcano that's about to erupt" or like "slow dancing, barefooted on broken shreds of grass”. Like "standing in front of ocean with a stick to withstand the waves" or "joyfully riding the tides of waves". Because that would define as what we see or feel about conflict. If we see it as a volcano, a war or a disease we would definitely want to avoid it and avoid everyone associated with it. However, if we don't see conflict as a problem in a negative sense, but a prospect, a solution (in the making) or an opportunity, there will be only one option about how we would want to handle it. And that is by "Embracing It".