Power or Possibility: A Conversation about Conflict
by Jerome Witter, conflict resolution consultant, coach, mediator and trainer at AKD.
In virtually every human society can come across conflict. We are all confronted with it. Every day there are global power struggles over territory, resources or ideology, conflicts in communities about immigration, values and culture. Additionally, in the professional world, there are business conflicts about resources, strategy and revenue.
Conflict is also happening within all of us. Even in you.
Naturally, we often associate conflict with words like grievance, bullying, struggle, stress, fight, anger and frustration. And yet all of these words are closely associated with a choice.
Conflict is a normal, inevitable and healthy part of any long-term human interaction and relationship. People will always have differences of opinion, not see eye-to-eye, have differing interests, goals and occasionally, a bad day. It doesn’t mean that we immediately always start re-writing the terms and conditions of our psychological contracts, seek a therapist or start editing down our friends’ list on social media platforms.
We often find that to push through or past these initial slights, discrepancies and misunderstanding by having constructive conversations in a collaborative, respectful and adult way helps us to seek a solution to the problem.
Yet with the ever increasing pressures on workplaces to maximise profit, employees to perform and families trying to make ends meet, a volcano effect of clashes, arguments, apathy and distress has been created.
Dorothy Thompson once said “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.” As a conflict resolution consultant, coach, mediator and trainer, I’d like to share with you why this resonates with my own personal and professional experience.
I do believe that conflict itself is not the problem, but rather it is how conflict is ‘managed’ that dictates whether a conflict situation ends up as a mechanism for exercising power or a platform for creating new possibilities…
“Bringers of Peace”
I have always been fascinated in people and what made them tick. My mother always says that it is the ‘Gemini’ in me that has led to most of my professional life being dedicated to working with others towards improving relations, maximising potential and effectively communicating.
The dictionary definition of a mediator is one who is a ‘Bringer of Peace’!
Being a mediator of peace is a responsibility, a set of values and principles and an unswerving conviction to help each and every person in becoming the best version of themselves, even in the midst of emotional turmoil and physical distress taking place in conflicting situations.
That by itself is enough to tell that having had the opportunity to work with clients and individuals in the capacity of growth and personal development for over 10 years is much more than a job to me.
To mediate and bring peace into organisations is to bring ‘understanding’ to a situation. Understanding of the party’s responsibility to want to change, understanding of how things can change, and ultimately understanding the benefits of change in respectfully and informally resolving disputes, grievances, complaints and fallouts in the workplace.
This has been at the heart of the restorative work I have carried out with some the UK’s leading businesses and institutions such as HSBC Bank, Network Rail, Historic Royal Palaces, The Metropolitan Police and Virgin Atlantic.
Conflict in the Workplace: The Involvement of Managers and Leaders
People often get into a conflict or put in a grievance or complaint when they are suffering and/or in pain.
As an HR professional, Manager, Supervisor or Team Leader we may have seen some symptoms before, which might include: incomplete work, gossip, not returning emails/calls or poor performances for example.
If left unchecked these behaviours appear as low employee engagement and low morale, high levels of sickness and absence, low retention, increased grievances and poor customer service. The things that can make the difference between commercial and reputational success or failure.
It is very easy to make a snap judgement as to what the right course of action is in any one of the given situations. However, just like an expert doctor or practitioner, only by being confident and competent in asking the right questions, probing around the circumstances showing genuine care and empathy will you be able to get to the root cause of the issue.
If we don’t treat the disease at the root, the symptoms may be reduced or calmed down, but they’re still there. It is only once diagnosing the root cause that the patient is able to receive the right treatment. And like how every patient is different, it is the same with you in your teams.
Einstein said: “You cannot solve a problem until you define it!”
It can be so easy for us to jump into finding solutions rather than defining the problem.
This is one of the reasons why I believe that coaching and training managers and leaders in ‘How to effectively identify, manage and resolve conflict’ has been the most impactful, successful and sustainable way to transform organisational culture.
Not only does this support an organisation through times of crisis, but also allows people to align their conflict management strategy alongside employee engagement, people satisfaction, CPD and the companies’ core values and behaviours.
By introducing mediation and conflict management training, you will be looking at a more comprehensive, holistic and innovative approach to diagnosing and treating workplace symptoms and causes of workplace conflict.
Remember, prevention is better than cure!