The Dance Of Conflict - BusinessBlog : McGraw-Hill
Career Leadership

The Dance Of Conflict

Guest post by Mary Scannel, co-author of The Big Book of Conflict Resolution Games.

Fight-or-flight may be our typical reaction to workplace conflict.  Fight, as in engaging in debate; or flight, as in ignoring conflict altogether.  Only when we take the time to consider our usual reaction to conflict and assess whether that reaction is appropriate, can we begin to choose a more effective response.

One of my favorite things to do in my spare time is run the desert trails near my home in Arizona.  The desert has its own unique beauty, which I love.  I usually run by myself, enjoying the solitude and the beauty of the desert flora and fauna.  Speaking of desert fauna, most of the year, all I see are quail, coyote, and the occasional roadrunner or lizard.  Springtime, however, brings with it another creature – the rattlesnake.  I usually see my first snake sometime in March.

After that first sighting, I am on high alert for snakes as I jog along.  In fact, what I have noticed is that even before my mind registers that there is a snake on the trail, my body begins doing what I call the snake dance.  The snake dance is kind of a leaping motion to quickly get me out of striking range.  Mid leap, it finally clicks in my conscious brain that there is a snake underfoot.  Once out of harm’s way, I continue on my run.

Sometimes flight-or-fight serves us well.  But, just the other day I caught myself in mid leap of my snake dance only to look down, and what do you think I saw?  A squiggly shoelace.  Fight-or-flight and my learned reaction kicked in before I consciously had time to think and respond appropriately.  My reaction did not match the circumstance in that case at all.

My question to you is:  what is your reaction to conflict?  More specifically, what does your conflict dance look like, and is your reaction appropriate for the circumstances?

Fight-or-flight may be our typical reaction to workplace conflict.  Fight, as in engaging in debate; or flight, as in ignoring conflict altogether.  Only when we take the time to consider our usual reaction to conflict and assess whether that reaction is appropriate, can we begin to choose a more effective response.

So, what makes conflict so uncomfortable that fight-or-flight kicks in?  Perhaps it is the emotions we bring to the interaction.  We tend to get pretty attached to some of our ideas, and pretty judgmental of other’s ideas.  We become so attached to our own ideas that they become our identity, and we take it personally when someone disagrees with our ideas.  On the other hand, when we judge another, we close ourselves off to listening and learning something new.  Effective listening is not possible when the message is filtered through our judgments.  Bottom line, if we are attached to our ideas and unwilling to listen to others, we do not have conflict, we have a stalemate.  Imagine how much time is lost on a typical workday because we are so stuck in our ways.

If your typical reaction to conflict is “fight or flight,” taking a collaborative approach is often counter-intuitive.   When we take a collaborative approach to conflict resolution, the dance of conflict becomes more of a give and take. You give your perspective while I listen to understand; I give my perspective while you listen to understand.  Together we look for collaborative solutions.

Responding to conflict in this manner allows you and your team to realize the real benefits of conflict.  The collaborative dance of conflict can lead to creativity, open communication, trust, respect, and acceptance of one another.  All it takes is some training and practice.

Mary Scannell (Tempe Arizona) is the founder of bizteamtools.com and is co-author of The Big Book of Team-Motivating Games.

 

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