- If managed properly, workplace conflict can have positive effects and actually lead to better decision-making and understanding.
- Practicing psychological flexibility allows people to see options they may not have noticed before.
- Creating a shared purpose by focusing on what is important and matters most can move people from “I-centric” to “we-centric” conversations.
We are social beings. Our nervous system is a social structure that finds balance and stability in relationships with others. To connect and collaborate at work, we need psychological safety. People need to feel appreciated, included, and respected, especially at work, to be productive, collaborative, and resilient in the face of daily challenges at work.
Workplace conflict can feel unsafe and threatening. It can evoke many feelings and thoughts of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty for the future. Will I have a job tomorrow? What did I do wrong? If what I did was a problem, why didn’t they tell me before? This is not fair. This is not my fault. It’s their fault! Can I speak up to defend myself or will I make things worse? I don’t trust these people anymore. Our thinking becomes stuck — stuck in blame and judgement, stuck in what the conflict means for our security. There is little room left for thinking about what we need to do to move forward.
If you have ever had an annual performance review that identified “opportunities for growth”, did you feel like you were receiving a report card on how you failed, or didn’t quite measure up? Have you ever had to give a performance review and despite your very best effort at being accurate and thoughtful, you notice that the person you are reviewing disagrees and they feel unfairly measured? Do you feel safe and connected with the other person? Do you notice the rush of adrenaline along with feelings like being hurt, upset, or angered? Do you feel the need to prove your point, to show that you are doing your very best or that you are being treated unfairly? Do you notice yourself judging the other person?
Workplace conflict doesn’t always have to end badly. Workplace conflict can have positive effects, if it is managed properly. It can lead to better decisions and understanding. So how do we manage workplace conflict?
Managing conflict properly is a shared responsibility of everyone involved, especially team leaders. When we are in a state of fear or threat, our conversations are shaped by the neurochemistry of fear (fight/flight), and we can only think about protecting ourselves. We need to get unstuck and shift from ‘I-centric’ to ‘we-centric’ conversations.
These are the steps for creating a safe space where ‘we-centric’ conversations can happen:
Step 1. Psychological Flexibility – Getting Unstuck
Psychological flexibility is the capacity to be present and engage in the current moment, regardless of whether the situation is challenging or unpleasant, and to pursue what is important, without being overly influenced by one’s thoughts and feelings. Psychological flexibility helps people move from stuck to unstuck.