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Basic Conflict Resolution Skills: The Stigma of Conflict

Stigma of ConflictCultural Attitudes About Conflict

People are inseparable from business. And business is about relationships. And relationships bring emotion. And emotion often carries stigma in the business community: e.g. “let’s keep our emotion out of it”.

As a professional mediator, I have had the privilege of trying to help businesses solve their conflict. And I have yet to see any case that did not involve a degree of emotion. I have also seen some very similar, and avoidable, patterns of dysfunction that plague so many businesses. This survey article aims to explore the stigma around conflict and what businesses can do about it.

Innovative businesses that aim to solve society’s problems are not only good for building fortunes, but also for strengthening the very fabric of our global society. From the app business that aims to entertain people, to the social entrepreneur that aims to save lives by delivering clean water to the most economically challenged people on earth.

In American culture, there is a great deal of stigma attached to conflict. We don’t like to admit that there is a problem and, least of all, admit that perhaps we made a mistake. We are a success-obsessed culture.  Tragedy, misfortune, and authentic emotion are typically hidden. For instance, Facebook is typically a sanitized version of most people’s reality.

But life is so much more complex.

On the flipside of ignoring conflict altogether are those who see conflict as humorous, as a form of disrespect, or discounting others’ feelings.

Underneath the slick veneer of many American businesses is a heaving beast of emotions and conflict, a veritable time bomb. Scandals emerge and are sometimes discreetly swept under the rug with the guidance of a highly paid PR company, or ignored altogether. Unhappiness pervades many business systems that have been put in place to control and manage people.

And there is growing evidence that these systems are part of the problem. For instance, with upper management’s dependence on software to filter candidates, and hedge HR costs, highly qualified individuals are slipping through the cracks due to arbitrary and draconian benchmarks. People are not “quantifiers”, nor are they machines. And as of this writing, no software, that I am aware of, can actually (and I mean tangibly) (1) make you pancakes or (2) give you love.

The Obsession with Success: a Key Driver of Stigma

American culture is obsessed with success. Success is vitally important for multiple reasons, but often carries immense psychic costs. Time lost with a young son or daughter, the extra stress of working time and a half, and the toll it takes on the body when working a 14-21 hour day, month after month. American culture views conflict as failure. Nobody wants to be sitting on the Titanic.

CEOs and managers’ attitudes compound the problem with their views. By asking a coach or seeking assistance with constructively dealing with conflict, they view such actions as implying that they have failed and they themselves are a ‘failure’.

If reading this article triggers such feelings of anxiety or discomfort, such feelings can be very revealing. Understand that finding solutions to the challenge of conflict is one that all humanity faces and is not failure. In fact, seeking solutions is incredibly courageous because it does not follow the herd (that may be going over the cliff) and a sign of emotional intelligence, a type of intelligence that is becoming increasingly important for the long-term sustainability and success of a business.

Often the choices we make can boil down to two: happiness/health or success? Most people opt for choosing success and it is critical to reach for it, but not at the expense of your life. Logically, if you are incapacitated, how can you win? Consider asking yourself why is it so important that you break yourself. Is it to impress others, feel satisfaction in accomplishment, not feeling a certain way?

Feeding the family and making the rent are practical necessities; but there is also a deeper emotion at work here. What happens if someone does not feed his or her family? Such a person may feel as if they have failed as a father or mother, perhaps that they are a “loser”, ashamed, embarrassed, or angry at outside forces. Knowing yourself well and managing your perceptions can help you better manage your emotions and energy.

Other Factors That Drive the Stigma of Conflict

The stigma of conflict can be traced, in large part, to shame or discomfort with emotion, and poor communication skills.

People often feel shame or embarrassment about being in conflict or their business having conflict. The very notion of conflict can often make CEOs or managers exclaim, “we don’t have any conflict”, which is revealing: either they are in complete denial of reality, they are not aware of what is going on in their company or they are telling an untruth. It is entirely possible that a company has managed to deal with problems in a calm, constructive, and logical manner. But such a company is exceedingly rare. By putting yourself and your business in this rare percentage, you are giving your company a decided advantage over the competition.

Judeo-Christian ethics of good and evil contribute to the stigma of conflict. If the moral universe is made up of right and wrong, good and evil, and conflict is considered ‘bad’, then it is understandable why people are afraid of, and recoil from, conflict.

Discomfort with emotion can be a tremendous block to constructively dealing with conflict. Emotions are often powerful, inexplicable, unpredictable, and thus highly frightening, often triggering ‘flight or fight’ responses in people. These are real, hard-wired feelings with accompanying hormones such as adrenaline that affect the body.

Poor communication skills are another reason why there is conflict stigma. When people are unable to constructively explain why they are angry, they often channel such emotions in other ways, such as through sarcasm, which is actually an expression of anger. Poor communication skills are perhaps one of the biggest roots of conflict. For instance, with filtering, we put things we hear in categories and fill in the gaps, which results in misunderstandings.

Why Ignoring Conflict or Un-Constructive Approaches Could be Eroding Your Business and Personal Life

Ignoring conflict in your business is a costly choice. Ignoring conflict today typically only makes it grow into a more expensive problem to solve tomorrow.

Conflict = Risk

Conflict scares away investors, banks, your board, and customers. Having observed venture capitalists drop promising entrepreneurs because of in-fighting, I can attest to the cost of conflict, both real and in opportunity costs, that businesses sometimes needlessly inflict on themselves. Conflict is bad for relationships, both personal and professional. Conflict can spill over into the personal or family space and erode that critical time for love, connection, and replenishment.

Conflict is also toxic for morale. An inability to deal with conflict can erode your credibility and influence perceptions of your capacity to lead.

Ultimately, conflict can sink your bottom line. Juggling it all is challenging. No one has ‘figured it out’ because your unique situation is as unique as you are. However, there are many effective solutions to addressing conflict.

What Can We Do About Conflict?: A New Vision of Conflict

     Conflict Resolution Skills as a Highly Adaptive & Highly Competitive Value

A massive attitudinal and value shift is afoot with the entrepreneurial evolution and a different view of conflict is part of the solution. A new vision of conflict can help evolve our businesses and endeavors in ways that we have never even dreamed possible, controlling legal costs, reducing risk, potentially increasing value, and promoting more happiness.

By developing conflict resolution skills, you can develop the courage to talk about volatile emotions and conflict in a constructive manner. Such skills are highly adaptive and make you highly competitive because you are actively seeking solutions to the problem instead of creating more problems.

Conflict Resolution Skills as Opportunity to Raise Company value: The Bison’s Survival Strategy

Seeing conflict as an opportunity to raise the company’s value is a radically different attitude. This is a new way of looking at conflict and a positive first step. Most companies see a problem and instantly think about how to flee from it or by eliminating it. Granted, in certain circumstances, such as in criminal conduct, it can be highly prudent to remove a violent instigator. Nevertheless, problems should attacked, head on, instead of avoided.

The differing responses of cattle versus Bison on the Colorado plains are instructive. Interestingly, in the Colorado prairie, storms form in the Rockies and come down to rain on the prairie below. Domestic cattle try to outrun the clouds forming in the mountains, but the storm is too fast for them and, inevitably, the cattle get heavily rained on, prolonging the pain.

The Bison, however, have a radically different tactic. As soon as the Bison sense that a storm is ready to come down the mountain, the Bison run straight into the storm, head first, and soon emerge on the other side of the passing storm. The Bison have learned that avoiding pain actually prolongs it, which is not to their advantage. Likely, the Bison found this tactic helpful in conserving energy and may be adaptive.

By attacking conflict head first, you can help avoid prolonging the pain, which in turn can cost a great deal in terms of resources of time and money. By addressing conflict early and quickly, you can raise the company’s value because not only are the members of the team effective problem solvers, they are also solving the problems at hand which is the very reason for the business’ existence.

Proactively Dealing with Conflict Before it Explodes

By proactively dealing with conflict before it erupts, much like firefighters who teach people fire safety, you can best position yourself and your business to succeed. Similarly to fire fighters, there are a number of actions you can take to prepare for the eventuality of a fire. Similar to emotions, fires can be unpredictable, destructive, and powerful. Dealing with these eventualities enables you to extinguish these destructive phenomena constructively and effectively.

The resources on this website are specifically designed to help you identify and effectively work through conflict. A specific aim of this website is to provide you with the tools necessary to effectively handle conflict whenever and wherever it appears in your business enterprise.


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