Conflict at work takes away our energy and lowers our productivity and performance. Conflict percolates continuously… sometimes below the surface, behind closed doors or at the water cooler. At times openly. Enough to discourage even the most optimistic person about the prospect of change.
We can prevail over conflict. Yet it’s not easy.
But change can, and has, been made by individuals. And when a critical mass of individuals in a work group decide to shift towards effective change, we call them an Innovative Team.
So how do you get started to conquer conflict?
By being humble.
By taking responsibility.
Then how do we put these two steps into action?
A great deal of attention is focused on persuading people to make “I” statements when confronting another person with whom they are having some form of conflict. For example, “I feel (name the emotion) when you do (name the behavior).” “I feel angry when you tell me how to make I statements.”
While this is good in that the speaker seems to take ownership of their feelings, the truth is that the real and only goal of an “I” statement is to get the offender to change their behavior. It’s about fault-finding, and it rarely succeeds in the long run, because it doesn’t give the offender a way to change.
We think a key element is missing here. Let’s start with the underlying premises:
Your behavior cannot cause me to feel anything. It is my thoughts about that behavior that is creating my feeling. Assuming normal brain chemistry and function, (yes, I know, big assumption… good try… ) it is thought that initiates the chemistry of emotion. It is the STORIES we tell ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, that create our emotions… our feelings. The behavior of another person, even if it is inappropriate, is not what caused the emotion. It is the observer’s cognitive response to that behavior that creates the feeling. This is a very subtle, but important distinction to overcome conflict in a constructive way.
My thoughts are mine to control. I can turn my attention, my cognitive lens, to any story I want to tell myself. I can choose a focus or a story that energizes any emotion I want to, no matter what the external situation I’m experiencing. This is not to suggest that we accept all behaviors of others. Assuming good-hearted intentions from both parties, we look for that good-hearted intention, rather than tell ourselves stories of evil intent.
Certain emotions serve us in certain situations, and should be honored. We have the ability to choose the emotions that best serve us in any given situation by turning our attention to the STORY that creates the emotion of greater value. We can get ourselves angry when that is what is needed to cause a change. We can energize love when that is what will move things forward. We can intensify the fear we are feeling by saying the words that make us more fearful, so that we can examine the underlying logic of the stories we’re telling ourselves. We can make ourselves sadder, so that we can be clear for ourselves exactly what the loss is that we are experiencing.
At other times, the emotions we are experiencing are an impediment to right action…to effectiveness…to honesty…to intimacy…to creativity. And it is in those situations that we need to challenge and change the story we are telling ourselves. And by so doing, change the root of our emotions.
Here’s how it would work if you were approaching a co-worker to explore a conflict of some sort that you were having:
Step 1: “I’m feeling (mad, sad, glad, afraid…or some variant)”
Step 2: “It’s being caused by a story that I’m telling myself, that may or may not be true. I want to see if the story is true, and I’m asking that you be totally honest with me.”
Step 3: The story is… (Tell the story that you have created about the meaning of the other person’s behavior/statements with respect to you.) “Here are the behaviors you do and the story I translate them into. The story creates this feeling for me, here’s how the story makes me feel, and here’s what I desire instead.” For example: (State your desire/intention.)
That’s it. Not simple you say? But of course!
If this were simple, we’d all be relationship gurus. We’re not, but we could be!
Get good at it in ANY area of your life, and you’ll be good at it in others…so maybe you don’t care about the company’s mission, or those morons you have to work with. Do the job, collect your paycheck, and go home. Use work to help you become a better contributor to your family. Why not practice at work, in order to perfect this skill for your other life?
No matter where you practice, this is a skill that requires both humility and responsibility taking in order to create a New & Improved you!
When all individuals bring these attitudes to the table, there is a huge likelihood of effective growth for all, and a concurrent increase in a productive, creative relationship.
Only fear stands in the way. And what’s the story you’re telling yourself to generate that fear?