Today’s workplace has many challenges to ‘getting along’ including the demographic shift which has occurred creating multiple generations existing in the workplace. Part of the conflict arises because the diverse generations each have their own set of values, and very different communication styles. This, in conjunction with the high level of stress in most workplaces makes conflict a problem faced by most organizations.
Even those organizations enjoying the distinction of being voted into Fortune’s Top 100 places to work have to face conflict, In recent interviews for my upcoming book, Dixon-Schwabl, Nixon-Peabody and Zappos all voiced the need to deal with conflict in a constructive manner. “It is important not to ignore it or try to sweep it away,” stated Scott Turner, a managing partner in Nixon-Peabody. Wegmans and Dixon-Schwabl also said they are working on ways to improve the way they deal with conflict. The truth is differences of opinion can be created any time a diverse mix of people come together in a workplace, and occurs even in the healthiest of organizations. The key is to utilize constructive confrontation to deal with conflict instead of pretending it does not exist or waiting until it breaks into open warfare.
A recent request was made of the author to create a program to help 34 CEOs from Mexico, South America, and Latin America to train them in “working with the spoken media in situations if an unforeseeable event occurs in the company.” In some of these circumstances the “unforeseeable event” is the result of observable symptoms of unrest that were ignored and left to fester. Conflict does not go away when disregarded, and in fact usually gets worse and has a negative influence on the productivity and communication in a workplace.
Conflict, when managed properly, can result in a better, more productive workplace full of creativity. Instead often angry employees choose not to deal with their feelings openly and this starts the destructive cycle of conflict.
Anger involves complex feelings and our response to anger involves our thought processes. One of the ways conflict manifests is when an individual appraises a contact with another and evaluates the interaction based on their life own experiences up until that point. They then react to the situation based on their assessment of the situation whether or not it is accurate! From that point on, their interaction with that individual will be based on their perception of a situation which may be based on faulty assumptions. In addition, all communication with that individual will be filtered through their flawed assumption. Without a perception check to understand where the person was coming from, conflict can develop unnecessarily.
Individuals in conflict often believe if only the other person would change their behavior the conflict would resolve itself. Ironically, by expecting the other person to change, we give away all our power because we cannot change another individual. The only person we have power to change is ourselves and how we choose to respond to a situation. In every conflict both individuals are usually part of the problem and by focusing on your part of the conflict you can change the situation.
Multiply the number of individuals in an organization interacting on a daily basis with diverse others, and one can see how unmanaged conflict can become a major reason for work not getting accomplished. By teaching employees communication techniques and ways to get both their needs met as well as their co-workers, disagreements can be resolved before they become a problem for the organization. It is only through understanding that the differences between the generations become assets instead of liabilities that hamper an organization reaching their goals.