The most common mistake people make when faced with conflict is to avoid it entirely and then become bitter and resentful that things did not go their way.
This is how victim stories become patterns. When we stuff our feelings down inside without dealing with them, we are creating bigger problems for ourselves.
Avoidance and silence do not resolve conflicts. If you have had three or more instances of thinking about something troubling you, then it is time to address it, so you can gain clarity about how you want to resolve the issue.
Take a look at what can happen when we don’t address conflict. Bob [the manager] did not allow conflict to be expressed. As a result, he did not understand why not much changed around him.
He did not get the attention he wanted from his own boss, and there was little collaboration going on with his team, because he avoided letting ideas bubble up in team meetings.
Bob was afraid his team members or his boss would disagree with him or each other, and he did not know how to handle the conversation when this happens. When differences of opinions were expressed and conflicts bubbled up in a team meeting, Bob would say, “The two of you can take that offline, we do not need to spend more time on it now.”
The two people he is referring to were peers, and they wanted his guidance and input on how to proceed, but he squashed these discussions too quickly, so that resolution was not possible. He never circled back to ask the two other people to meet with him on the issue.
The ironic part of this is that, though Bob was conflict avoidant, he was swimming in a sea of unresolved conflict around him.
After coaching, Bob learned how to address issues as they came up, make a decision together with his team and move forward – focused on what the co-created resolution would be. Bob is no longer struggling to lead his team effectively because he learned how to communicate through conflicts to create resolutions with his team.
I taught Bob that dismissing or not listening to issues that someone wants to express is a mistake that may happen because someone is conflict avoidant or because he thinks the person raising the issue is below him, out of line or not worthy of attention.
When the person who is not being heard is a stakeholder in your work or on your team, there will be an undercurrent of conflict that limits people’s engagement. Signs of an undercurrent of conflict that sabotage collaboration are:
• Dancing on eggshells, not speaking clearly about what issues exist.
• Making sarcastic or snide comments.
• Resorting to screaming and bullying.
• Cheap shots that come out sideways instead of directly addressing the issue.
Not asking for what you want, not being clear on your own desires and instead waiting for someone else to state what he wants is another classic mistake that leads to resentment over time.
Another mistake that people make in conflict resolution is not paying attention to differences in communication styles and motivators. When we expect someone else to use our style all the time, we are creating stress for him.
By accepting and discussing our differences in our preferred styles, by playing to the strengths of both our styles and by working through the natural differences, we will have stronger collaboration and better results.
Shawn Kent Hayashi of Center Valley is the author of five business books and a professional development guru to whom executives turn when they need help improving performance, establishing a new culture, merging departments or coping with change. She also is Executive in Residence for the Lehigh University MBA program. Her new book (McGraw-Hill Professional, paperback $18) is available at Amazon and in local bookstores. She can be reached at 215-588-1188.