by DLCC Coach Sharon Barbour
Conflict is natural, understandable and human. In the best case, it raises awareness of different perspectives and prompts a team or system to grow. And, in the worst case, conflict sucks the energy, creativity and good vibe out of a work environment. We’ve all experienced it. So, how do we more skillfully handle conflict at work?
Here’s one way: Become good at noticing your own inner reaction to conflict and settling your nervous system, shifting your attention so that you can respond in more grounded, thoughtful ways. Will your words and stance perpetuate the system in conflict or will it shift it? What does it require of you to shift it?
As a player in the workplace or team system, how you show up is important. When we are triggered and reacting vs. thoughtfully responding, we tend to perpetuate the conflict. When triggered, it can feel like our very survival is threatened. Our heart rate speeds, our hands sweat, our thoughts become rapid. The words and actions that arise from this state typically are not as useful as the ones that arise from a calm, non-triggered state. When we are resourced, we can get curious, see more perspectives and help resolve the conflict.
Take your finger off the trigger
Just like building any other muscle or competency, it takes practice. The idea is to work that muscle when the stakes are low so that it’s available to you when the stakes are higher. That is, start with small triggers – notice your inner reaction, ground and center yourself and then make a new move. Instead of doing what you usually do, try something new. You could ask yourself what’s truly important in this situation and make a move that honors that. You could get curious about what the other person is saying instead of reacting to it. You could sink into your heart and notice if there is wisdom there that could help. Experiment and practice. The fundamental shift is to notice your reaction, settle your nervous system and organize around what’s truly important, rather than react from habit.
Interested in learning to build your resiliency muscles and improve your response to conflict? Here are a few things to try:
- Shift your attention/awareness. You can move your attention and awareness where you like. What opens when you take your awareness “up to the balcony” and look down at the situation? What if you identified a commitment, such as ‘I’m committed to listening, even in conflict’?
- Get curious. What is the story you are telling yourself? How does it feel? What’s the impact? What do you really want? What story aligns with that? What’s next?
- Drop whatever it is in you that is causing disharmony. For example, drop the need to be right, to be seen a certain way, to cling to some identity if it gets in the way.
- Use the energy of conflict. Shift to using the energy that is swelling up to ground into what’s important and to stay steady as you listen to the other. Say what’s important.
- Design your alliance. This could be an entire article itself! In brief, gather your team or employees and discuss how you want to be together. What kind of environment do we want to create together? What would help you flourish? How do we want to be together when it gets difficult?
As with any new skill, this takes practice! But by staying calm and present in the face of conflict, you can help it bring more awareness and less drama, and make space for your team to grow.