Ready for a wild ride? Conflict is a fact of life, and in the workplace it’s no different. But what if I told you that conflict doesn’t have to be a negative thing? In fact, if managed properly, conflict can lead to greater innovation, stronger relationships, and more successful outcomes. That’s right, conflict can be a powerful tool for growth and progress. Of course, this is easier said than done and many of us struggle with conflict management, particularly in a professional setting. In this article, we’ll explore some practical tips and strategies for managing conflict, so you can turn even the wildest conflicts into opportunities for growth and success.
If disagreements are a natural part of human relationships, what are our available tools when conflict arises? Do we react in an explosion of angry words or do we bear the heavy cost of unexpressed feelings? Do we punish and judge? Do we focus on past events and evoke blame? Do we freeze, shut down and leave in a spiral of guilt or in the presence of burning unfairness? Are we being too tolerant with those in our team or are we not being tolerant enough?
In the face of conflict different emotions will arise, how we choose to react to those emotions will prove key to maintaining healthy relationships, and it all starts with understanding our needs. Behind every emotion, there is an underlying need. Do you feel proud? Perhaps your need for accomplishment has been met. Do you feel anxious? Oh no! You shouldn’t feel anxious, anxiety is bad! It’s a negative emotion, negative feelings are bad. But are they?
The reality is that there are no “bad” emotions. Feelings are just ways of communicating when our needs have been met or when they haven’t. Perhaps it was your need for certainty that induced the anxiety, or perhaps it was the need for safety or the need for reassurance. Without making the connection between emotion and need, trying to “control” them will be pointless.
But before identifying the underlying needs I want to go back to emotions again. When disagreement happens, empathy becomes essential to our ability to manage and overcome those conflicts. That is the ability to be in the other person’s shoes. In the best of outcomes, our goal would be that the other person understands us, and empathizes with our feelings so that we can move on to a solution. However, when expressing our feelings there is a catch that can bring defensiveness and resistance into our interlocutor instead of empathy. That is what author Rosenberg calls “judgment-based feelings.”
Here, words and language become extremely important, specifically the ability to distinguish between feelings and thoughts. When we say we “feel like a failure” that’s not an actual feeling, it is a thought, and the feeling behind that may be disappointment or regret. In the same way, when we use supposed feelings that imply the behavior of another person we are mixing feelings with judgments. For example when saying “I feel insulted” or “I feel mistreated” it not only means angry or outraged, it means that another person has wronged us which has more to do with how we interpret others rather than how we really feel.
The problem with using these “judgment-based” feelings is that they interfere with empathy and instead puts the interlocutor into a defensive mode which alienates communication and promotes finger-pointing and blame. If we want to promote empathy and understanding instead, the best way to do it is by observing and quoting the behavior that affected us in the most objective way and then adding the feeling that this provoked in us. For example “When you raised your tone of voice in the meeting it made me feel uncomfortable”.
Therefore next time conflict arises remember
Negative feelings are just ways of communicating when our needs haven’t been met
Reflect on what those needs may be
Avoid using “judgment-based” feelings when talking to the person whose behavior or words affected you
Use “I” statements to state how you feel about something and what you may want to change
Avoid any “you” statement as it may feel threatening to the other person
In conclusion, bringing awareness to the language we use in order to foster better communication will prove key when working in teams and in organizations. Conflict is a natural part of human relationships and can be a powerful tool for growth and progress if managed properly. When faced with conflict, it’s important to understand that behind every emotion is an underlying need. By identifying and communicating our needs using “I” statements and avoiding “judgment-based” feelings, we can promote empathy and understanding in the other person and move towards a solution. Managing conflict is not always easy, but with these practical tips and strategies, even the wildest conflicts can be turned into opportunities for growth and success.
Participant of International MBA, class of 2023
Morgane Borzée is a highly skilled entrepreneur and user experience designer, whose work is deeply rooted in her passion for understanding the impact of technology on mental health and well-being. She founded FriendlyBit, a UX agency and has worked in the education industry for several years. Morgane holds an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons Design School in New York, and is completing an MBA at EADA Business School. She is currently in the process of developing a groundbreaking start-up idea focused on emotional intelligence and well-being, which promises to be a game-changer in this space.