Why people fail at conflict resolution

Conflict in the workplace can happen – particularly when passionate people have opposing ideas. But the approach to resolving conflict, while simple, is often overlooked.

During a recent leadership course, the trainer said very matter-of-factly that “an issue isn’t an issue until it is communicated.”

He gave the example of an employee sitting in a pod of desks, who was annoyed by the regular sighs of one of his colleagues. Yet instead of raising it with that colleague, he broached the subject with other colleagues sitting nearby.

Before long, the entire office was betting on how many times their colleague would sigh in a given day – all while he remained blissfully unaware of the distraction he was creating.

It resonated strongly with me, having faced a similar situation in a previous workplace, where a young woman would constantly be clearing her throat. All of us around her tried numerous ways of overcoming the distraction – putting headphones on, trying to ignore it, changing desks – to no avail. But no one broached the subject with her, so the habit continued unabated.

These examples demonstrate that conflict – even of the unspoken, passive-aggressive type – can flourish within a workplace simply because the problem isn’t verbalised to those with the ability to make a difference.

“Every negative problem is communicable and I think that’s what people lose sight of. You can communicate and discuss if you’re prepared to,” agrees Paul Cave, founder of BridgeClimb Sydney.

“I think that’s a part of our culture that is really under pins what we do, because we’re forever wanting to raise the bar. You only raise the bar if you deal with the negative as well as the positive and more particularly the negative, so important.”

So to keep the peace between everyone in the workplace, it makes sense to create a culture of openness and transparency, where problems are verbalised and solved instead of left to fester or become a distracting daily betting ground!

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