Throughout ones career, every person faces a variety of conflicts and will address these inevitable road blocks differently. From youth, individuals experience conflict and as they grow older, they begin to build skills to address conflict and ensure better psychological safety
from these perceived threats. These skills do not diminish when entering the workforce. However, conflicts appear with a new level of complexity most have not previously faced. Addressing conflict with a superior or supervisor creates new challenges to face which many struggle with.
Executive management is generally responsible for setting rules and regulations that play a heavy hand in establishing workplace culture and experience for all employees. However, management does not always follow these rules. As individuals climb an organizational hierarchy, their objectivity diminishes. Executives commonly are treated as if they are “untouchable” and therefore may act in a manner “above the law” or the organization, which is counterproductive to the work environment. Executives' failure to follow established rules creates a rift in the organizational structure. A defiance of rules, a poor demonstration of leadership and a disruptive attitude from executive management will reflect throughout the organization.
As employees, how can we point out hypocrisy - or even just uneducated asks from leadership - while still maintaining relationships with those structurally above them in an organization?
Managing conflict is uncomfortable for everyone but unfortunately, it is a crucial part of everyday life and necessary for advancement in a professional environment. Being able to effectively deal with distressing situations is a rare strength that many may leverage throughout their lives.
- Come Prepared with Facts, Not Opinions
In addressing a conflict with a superior, it is important to be organized and prepared when entering a meeting. Preparing written topics, questions or pieces of “evidence” in preparation for a meeting can aid in organizing thoughts and feelings to create an effective explanation of the perception of the conflict at hand.
When an individual's cognition perceives a threat, the instinct to “fight” or “flight” ignites and can dominate words and actions. While in a professional environment, this is most likely not a physical fight or flight. Nevertheless, these instincts can lead to conflict avoidance or a hasty confrontation. Fight or flight can cause individuals to act without thinking which would not lead to a productive and mutually beneficial meeting. To remain in control of this instinct, focus on adopting the mental headspace to be patient and understanding while actively listening to the opposing party. Additionally, being prepared and organized for a conflict-focused conversation will help to keep a clear course of thought if someone perceives a threat or feels uncomfortable in the situation.
2. Be Respectful, Calm, and avoid defensiveness
In addressing conflict across any leadership boundaries, colleagues, or friendships, it is important to stay respectful and focused on the situation at hand. Rather than attacking or criticizing a person, focus on their actions and how they affect individual and organizational goals. To have an effective meeting, both parties must feel respected and valued despite the situation at hand. Be cognizant of the professional relationship with a superior and how they may perceive the situation. Very frequently emotions or feelings can “fog” the perception of an event and create a disparity in individuals' understanding of an event. Remaining calm will allow those involved in a conflict to better understand the situation from the other person's point of view which may change their actions following a conflict. It is important to remain calm and keep emotions contained to effectively communicate with others and hold reason.
3. Stay Solution Oriented
In a conflict-centered meeting, it is important to be focused on finding a solution. Do not bicker or argue over minuscule points or experiences, it is much more productive to express feelings from either party and seek a resolution that satisfies all members. A solution-oriented mindset allows for positivity and growth. Rather than feeling defeated, adopt a growth mindset that embraces mistakes
as learning opportunities. Even those who are not leaders by title can lead within a team and contribute to building an advantageous culture for those around them. Focusing on building a community around accepting errors and encouraging resilience will reduce those feeling attacked or threatened by a workplace conflict. Rather than a threat, they will view it as feedback that is consistently shared for personal, professional, and organizational improvement.
Entering a meeting with a solution-oriented mindset is useful in multiple ways; however, the most beneficial points of this attitude are creating comfort for the “opposing” party and staying focused on a specific problem. Creating psychological comfort
is crucial for a productive meeting in providing feedback. When people are in a zone of psychological comfort, they are more willing to listen and take feedback as a chance for improvement than as a personal attack.
4. Ask for Feedback
Demonstrate willingness to listen by requesting feedback. Everyone requires feedback for improvement and self-betterment however, impromptu negative feedback can lead to a lot of emotion if the individual is unprepared. In a constructive meeting of addressing conflict, acknowledge that there are two sides to each story and a manager or superior may have constructive feedback that would aid in mitigating the conflict in the workplace and contribute to a more harmonious work environment.
5. Follow Up
In cases of conflict, it is important to monitor problems after addressing them. If the problem persists, consider informing human resources or a similar resource, collect appropriate documentation of the conflict and the steps taken to mitigate the problem. Realize that changes of conflict may take time to be reflected in the actions of leadership and executives. In the meantime of addressing a conflict and seeing change, professionals should draw strict boundaries between work and personal life to make sure that conflicts do not negatively affect their personal lives.
Although daunting, effectively facing these conflicts in the workplace leads to better advocacy and behavior from all parties and allows for improved growth in personal and professional settings. Remember that each conflicting situation may be different but it is important to maintain balance between work and personal lives to encourage the best version of an individual in each setting.