What to do When Conflict Arises

Let’s get straight to the facts:
– 98% of employees reported experiencing toxic behaviour at work
– 80% lost work time worrying about incidents
– 78% said their commitment to the organization declined
– 66% said their performance declined
– 48% intentionally decreased their work effort

Conducted by Georgetown University, this survey shows that toxic relationships and ineffective management of conflict negatively influence employees and ultimately the organization.

There are several ways to diffuse tense situations including remaining calm, seeking clarity and showing respect, but it is important to explore how the actual interpretation of an incident or conversation can influence conflict.

The Ladder of Inference based on the work of notable business theorist Chris Argyris, shows the selection and categorization process our mind goes through every day as we receive information. Our mind first selects observable data from occurrences happening all around us. It then filters through the selected data and adds meaning to it based on feelings and past experiences. We then make assumptions about that data and draw conclusions, adopt beliefs and take action – usually a negative action if someone has done something negative to us. This ‘action’ can be a negative thought that diminishes our confidence, relationships or treatment of others; or it can be a negative response in the form of lashing out or even a physical altercation.

Now that we better understand how our minds interpret every day interactions and occurrences, let’s get a sense of what can be done to deal with and prevent conflict.

As mentioned, staying calm, getting clarity on what actually occurred and showing respect are all valuable tactics. Focusing on a desired outcome and looking for a common good is also important as it shows you’re not just in it for yourself and you actually care about others’ feelings. Dealing with one topic at a time is also beneficial because it allows all parties to zone in on what’s going on at the present moment – rehashing past arguments or bringing up irrelevant information can stir things up unnecessarily.

Set up a time to discuss the issue that occurred and try to understand what else could be happening by listening actively. During conversation, keep your voice calm, try not to be accusatory and take responsibility for your own actions. Recap the occurrence and discussion and together decide how to move forward.

Although it’s impossible to go through life without any conflict, there are several guidelines to keep in mind when dealing with intense situations: separate your beliefs about the problem from your view and definition of the people involved; listen first, talk second; set out all of the facts before reacting; explore options together in order to build trust; and remember that having good, healthy relationships is more important than winning a battle.