Argue – but do it right
Are there conflicts in your company? Perhaps two department heads are arguing about the distribution of tasks in a project? Perhaps there are differences of opinion between management and staff? Maybe you feel exploited by a colleague because you always have to do more than he does?
Of course there are also conflicts in your company. No organisation can manage permanently without conflicts. There are conflicts always and everywhere. This insight leads to two important questions:
- What is behind the disputes and what is it really about?
- How can conflicts be solved and what prerequisites are necessary?
The prerequisites for resolving conflicts
Problems and conflicts contain energies and resources that are too valuable to be overlooked. Solved conflicts are worth cash for every company. Can every conflict be solved? I hear this question very regularly in conflict management. And my experience says: “Yes, absolutely.” When two conditions are met:
Successful conflict resolution can succeed if all parties involved are really interested in reaching an agreement.
Patience is needed. A conflict that may have grown over many years will usually not end like a spell from one minute to the next. If you want to resolve a long-lasting conflict, you will have to invest time. An effort that is definitely worth it.
The wonderful thing about conflicts is that, as a rule, the respect of the former opponents for each other grows while the conflict is being resolved. It is not for nothing that people say that conflicts connect. Imagine two people sitting in a rowing boat. Both are rowing, but in the opposite direction. Sometimes it goes in one direction, then the opponent gains strength again and rows a bit in his direction again. Basically both sides can’t move forward, except one of them is much stronger. They spin in a circle and use their energy senselessly. If the two opponents would talk to each other and agree on a common goal, then they could bundle their forces and row there together.
This is the first and at the same time the most important step on the way to conflict resolution. Namely to stop and to try to agree on a goal together with the opponent. The goal is already the first agreement. The first joint success. Only when the goal is clear a plan can emerge on how to get there.
Speaking is Gold
The vast majority of disputes have their roots in what is not said. But misunderstandings and all that is not discussed often lead to conflicts. Only those who say something have the opportunity to clarify things. Silence is risky, because if you don’t say anything, you usually won’t clarify anything.
Of course there are different types of people. One likes to argue, the other avoids arguments, and a third starts at a fight each time. But very few people know how fighting really works. Most simply argue, screaming, crying and raving. But if you knew how to fight right you could even fight successfully.
When there is open communication, when managers and employees communicate and talk about things clearly, there are fewer conflicts. So talk to each other. Praise what you like and criticise as objectively and judge as little as possible. Avoid any form of threat. And in negotiations with conflict potential, speak in the subjunctive: “If we both would imagine …”. In this way you do not build up any pressure in the dispute and you can explore well what your opponent will resist.
When two people argue, a third person clarifies (better) that
Those who argue are without exception always emotionally affected, otherwise a purely objective discussion and no conflict would arise. In lectures, this is always the moment when managers, executives and entrepreneurs say, “I can easily separate the factual from the emotional level. That’s not true for me.”
However, my many years of experience as a conflict manager have shown that this is not the case: The cause of conflicts is usually a domination of the emotional level. When you start to get excited and argue, it’s no longer about the thing, but about pride, ego, injury, power, control, blame, accusation, and being or getting right. This is the spiral of conflict. And once it turns, the emotional level becomes much more important than the factual view of things.
The Conflict Spiral
What is a conflict really about? In professional life, conflicts on the fringes are often fought over. The colleague who comes too late, about whether a window should be opened or closed, about a fair distribution of work. Especially when these “little things” accumulate, it is very likely that another, hitherto unresolved conflict – a core conflict – is behind it. Therefore, the question “What is it really about?” is a very important step in conflict resolution.
And how do you escape the spiral of conflict? In other words, what would you do if your car were broken or your children sick? Can you imagine successfully repairing your car yourself or healing your children medically? Or do you consult the specialist workshop and the paediatrician?
In my experience, the same applies to conflicts. You can try to resolve them further using the do-it-yourself method, or you can simply pass the annoyance, the conflict on to a specialist who will resolve it to your mutual satisfaction.
How is that supposed to work? For example, as the two managing directors of two large companies did. They called me and told me about their ongoing dispute. Each of them had already spent about 60 hours in conflict with the other. With the result that the situation did not improve, but exactly the opposite happened. Every hour invested, every conversation, every letter and every mail seemed to worsen the situation.
In order to help the two parties out of their lost situation, I took turns telephoning them in a so-called shuttle mediation. After almost six hours the conflict was settled. The companies and the managing directors are working together again today, and with a good deal of respect for each other.
And how could I solve the conflict? For me and my work the solution stood in the foreground, I was neutral in contrast to the managing directors, did not pass on the respective evaluations and injuries to the opponent, but instead asked what positive things they could say about each other. After all, there must be a lot of positive aspects to a long-term collaboration. I have directed the respective view away from the problem and towards the solution and the positive. And then I asked them to simply meet in person and get to know each other, because this had not yet happened. Said, done. Some conflicts can be solved that easily.
Conflicts are worth cash for companies
The quickest way to resolve a conflict is to involve a neutral third person, a mediator or conflict manager, to guide the process. Nevertheless, in the course of my work I have noticed that conflicts within companies and between people are similar. Since then I have been researching a method of how people can resolve their conflicts themselves. Meanwhile the method is in the testing phase, and with great success. Interested companies who would like to participate in the trial phase are welcome to contact me and describe their status quo.
While conflicts persist, valuable resources and energies are lost in companies because they are invested in the problem and not in the solution. The solution, however, monetarises conflicts because solved conflicts
- support the personal development of individual employees,
- strengthen recognition, respect and cohesion among colleagues,
- deepen mutual understanding within the workforce,
- improve the working atmosphere.
- increase productivity and
- promote innovation.
Only for those who cannot deal properly with a conflict does it seem annoying, uncomfortable and exhausting. For me as a conflict manager, conflicts hold potential for change opportunities, which in many companies are the driving force behind progress.
Stephanie Huber is founder and managing director of konSENSation GmbH. She works with enthusiasm as a mediator with a focus on business mediation and conflict management and helps companies and executives to improve the working atmosphere.