When doing business, we all want to act in a matter-of-fact style, focusing solely on reaching the defined targets. At least, this is what we believe we are doing. But: Is this really our overarching motivation?
I don’t think so. Because first of all, we are people with feelings and needs. And I do think that this is also the reason why there are more conflicts in the job, in the department or the team than we would want to admit.
If we were honest with ourselves, then we would have to realize that we are quite often annoyed by colleagues or certain situations in the office. This does not necessarily always lead to a conflict, but we can at least feel the anger once the damage is done. And if situations that annoy us repeat themselves over and over again, we can in fact speak of conflicts.
But how do these conflicts arise?
Quite often the reason is hurt feelings: one feels either not heard or seen, the other is missing appreciation from his/her colleagues, another one might feel not treated fairly, you may feel exploited, or someone has – in our opinion – not assumed his/her responsibility that he or she should have assumed based on his/her role, and so on.
Depending on the gravity of the emotional impact, one singular event of this type may be enough to destroy what once was a pleasant atmosphere. This has implications: collaboration between the parties involved in the conflict becomes worse, as do the related work results. It is not at all uncommon for one of the parties involved in the conflict to not even realize at the beginning that he or she has somehow contributed to the conflict. Because it is quite rare that such emotional wounds caused by “not listening,” “not watching,” or “not appreciating” arise due to bad intent!
It is obvious that such conflicts can be avoided when emotional distress is expressed and addressed timely. But the person affected must be able to reflect and perceive his or her feelings. This is no mean feat; it takes a great deal of self-perception and courage. The corporate culture is the factor determining the amount of courage required to address hurt feelings in an open and timely fashion. Has this type of communication and self-care become common practice in the organization, or not?
Unfortunately, the reality still is that – in a corporate context – feelings or even emotional wounds are not discussed early and in an honest way.
The consequence is that conflicts intensify. They grow worse over a longer period of time and are only addressed when the capacity of a team or two colleagues to collaborate is already disturbed to a significant extent. And then what?
Then, both parties to the conflict are often no longer able to resolve this conflict on their own and they will be in need of a professional conflict mediation. This should then be done by an independent third party who might be a supervisor or manager, a team member not involved in the conflict, or an external coach. It is essential that this person remains his or her multipartiality throughout the entire process of conflict mediation and that this multipartiality is not challenged by the parties to the conflict. The mediator is engaged to support both parties to the same extent throughout the entire process. This multipartiality also requires all parties to be fully open to all kinds of solutions.
Once the process of conflict mediation has been initiated, the conflict will quite frequently get to turning points. These turning points will become evident in that the parties to the conflict start to
- listen to each other
- put themselves in each other’s shoes
- speak from the heart
- provide information that contributes to resolving the conflict
- look for a higher rewarding target for both parties
- look for and find a common narrative or link
- express apologies
If things go well, the ability to collaborate is restored or has been improved at least following the conflict mediation process. However, conflicts might arise that cannot be resolved and where there is no turning point. In this case, one of the possibilities to restore the ability to collaborate within the team is that one of the parties to the conflict leaves the team. This might sound a bit harsh, but it is quite frequently better for both the team and the parties involved in the conflict than to let the conflict simmer without doing anything against it.
In a nutshell: It is essential to create a culture that encourages team members to talk about feelings and emotional distress. In doing so, most of the conflicts can be avoided, which will in turn translate to better team performance.
This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here