Managing Conflict at Work

20 March 2019

A perfect way to spend a mid-week evening: attending a workshop organized by HBA Basel on the topic of conflict management. This was the first workshop in a new series that the volunteering team has brilliantly designed to highlight the importance of soft skills in the professional environment. The message for the audience was clear, “Get ready. We have a lot of interesting events upcoming for you.”

“Have you ever experienced conflict in the workplace?” Carl Emerson cuts to the chase in his charming English accent. Carl is managing director of InsideOut Solutions, where he coaches executives and teams to achieve their highest potential. Everyone has found her/himself at least once in the situation of having a different opinion with a colleague, a manager, an employee, or even a personal acquaintance. The ice breaks and Carl engages the audience throughout the entire evening, creating a dynamic environment where people ask questions, interact and share experiences.

Conflict is not always bad,” Carl highlights. It is a great way to share opinions, to foster personal and professional growth and it can also result in unification rather than separation. However, one should take care not to let conflict escalate into a lose-lose situation. There can be many levels to a conflict situation. For example, in a “stairway to hell” the more you go down, the worse the conflict becomes. Being aware of where you stand and where your counterpart stands, prevents you from reaching the bottom if you are not too far down already.

Awareness is key to react to and hopefully, end conflicts in a win-win situation. Awareness of not just what is going on around you, but also inside you. Keeping an eye on your stress levels and fears are essential to calm down an impulsive reaction. Such consciousness helps to activate a more effective response instead.

But how to respond? Is it worth trying to be logical and rational? The answer is, "it depends." You need to understand the language that your counterpart is using in a conflict. If she/he is using a logical, rational and formal talk, “a high-talk”, then it is indeed worth answering with the same logical and rational style. However, if the counterpart is imposing her/his opinion in a no-talk-at-all style with mostly gesture and body language, “a move-talk”, then there is no chance that a high-talk will work. You must react with move-talk as well and outsmart the counterpart to bring the discussion to the level of basic or high-talk.

So next time you find yourself in a conflict, you should decide your goal and how you want to resolve the conflict. Do you want to walk away, solve it directly, solve indirectly, or exit the relationship? And then try to raise awareness, stay focused and choose the language that will be the most effective to reach your goal.

In the end, every conflict is different. There is no recipe that works in every situation. The audience is eager to learn more and one-to-one discussions follow through the apéro. The nice chemistry between the speaker and the HBA audience leaves the door open for a potential future session, perhaps with role-play exercises.
So “Get ready,” there will be more coming. Are you going to be a part of it?

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