When I do Effective Conflict workshops, I start by having everyone determine how they personally feel about conflict. I put my water bottle in the middle of the floor and tell the group that the bottle represents conflict. Then, I ask them to stand close to the bottle if they are comfortable with conflict and far away if they do not like any form of conflict. People will move to various places around the room in relation to conflict (i.e., the water bottle). It’s important to start by knowing our own feelings about conflict.
Something interesting happened the first couple of times that I did this exercise. After I gave the instructions and people were milling around to determine where they wanted to stand, someone asked, “Do you mean conflict at work or at home?” I wasn’t expecting that question; I had assumed that people felt a certain way about conflict all the time. That was an incorrect assumption!
As it turns out, most people in my workshops have very different feelings about conflict at work than they do about conflict at home. There doesn’t seem to be an overarching pattern to the difference. For example, one person may be more comfortable with conflict at home, and someone else more comfortable with conflict at work. It varies by personality and situation, but there is usually a difference.
Whether at work or home, the first piece of dealing with conflict effectively is knowing how we feel about conflict in general. Our feelings set the tone for the discussion. If we really don’t like conflict, we might avoid it or try to get it over with in a hurry. Neither of these is particularly useful when dealing with differences of opinion.
The other important piece of dealing with conflict effectively is knowing that conflict is not a bad thing! When I ask workshop participants what color conflict is, they usually answer “red” or “black.” When I ask what conflict sounds like, people say things like “nails on a chalkboard” or “a freight train coming at you.” Wow! Those are horrible, stressful sounds!
It’s useful to think of conflict as just discussing a difference of opinion or perspective. Granted, we can get pretty wrapped up and emotional about our views, but we want to step back and look at conflict as an opportunity to learn something new about ourselves, other people, and a particular situation. If handled well, conflict can result in more positivity in a relationship, not less.
The fundamental pieces of effective conflict are knowing our own feelings about conflict and adjusting our perspective to a more positive view of disagreements. After all, deciding where we want to go to lunch is resolving a conflict. We will talk about specific tools, techniques, and the various levels of conflict as we continue this topic, but let’s begin by checking in with our feelings and perspectives when faced with a conflict – big, small, at home, or at work.
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