Resolving global conflict, one workplace drama at a time.

The following is based on a combination of messages I put together at work this week.

You may not know that I did my Masters in Conflict Management & Negotiation. Which may help explain why Tisha B’av is a day on our calendars that holds a place deep in my heart; it brings to light the idea that as long as we silo ourselves, or go out of our way to misunderstand each other, or go so far as to fight with each other, we’ll never get ahead.

I also think that we encounter conflict more often than we realize. It’s not just arguing over political ideologies, how to handle coronavirus, what constitutes human rights, and so on. Actually, we spend 8-10 hours at work every day, right? Every. single. day – and probably close to hourly – we are finding ourselves engaged in workplace conflict, and even tiny trace amounts of it can cause a profound lasting effect.

How can we turn that experience of intra-company conflict into a productive part of our personal lives? That goes even broader?

In honor of this week, I want to offer something from my conflict management studies – an actionable set of takeaways which, with practice, can be applied further out in our communities, countries, and the world.  

First, my guiding principle: contact theory. The idea is that by different groups making contact with each other – literally sitting down in discussion – this could help shed some of the intergroup prejudice or conflict they experience. 

We’re all so different. Personally, professionally. And yet what I have found is that nothing has helped me become more productive, more of a team player, than seeking out other teams and finding out what makes them tick. Or when in conflict with another team, sitting together in a room to talk it out. Or try to understand the motivation behind a colleague’s actions, in order to help solve the core issue we’re having. Or to look people in the face and see everyone as human. And to hope it’s reciprocated.

And it obviously goes further than work. We’re going through a collectively pretty painful time right now. That struggle may look different on each of us, but the fact is, we could all use a bit more contact – of seeing and being seen – and having the chance to understand our colleagues and be understood ourselves.

And that’s true whether arguing about project prioritization, whether the AC is high enough, if going to elections again is a good thing, religious practices, LGBT rights, or the best way to run meetings. 

When I think about what gets me through office conflict, I point to four things I can share because each is attainable and each can be practiced and improved with experience.

  1. Holding on to integrity. What do you feel is the ‘spine’ or center of your being? What holds you together? What are your personal core values? Is it treating others the way you expect to be treated? Is it doing your best at the job, no matter how much experience or lack of? Is it putting people’s feelings first? Or quality of output? Whatever your personal truth is – hold on to it. When things get murky here, tap into your personal core. Are you being true to yourself? Would people in your life outside of your job still recognize you at work? If our integrity isn’t aligned, we start to take out our internal frustration on others, or slack off, or doubt ourselves. The conflict seeps out from within.
  2. Speak up. It took me a long time to understand no one will hear me if I don’t start speaking out loud. It’s scary, yes; especially in the context of balances of power and the people who sign our paychecks. But remember that no matter what your title or your number of years of experience, you are part of a global team and deserve to be heard. Obviously, there are ways to do this. And lots of room for creativity. It’s easy to ignore people who don’t make it clear what they need and expect. And ignored people aren’t equipped to do their best to bring a company or team to success.
  3. Empower others. Nothing makes a stronger team mate than knowing they can be trusted, and knowing they trust you. I think it’s kind of an infinite loop… by empowering each other, you come to trust each other. And by trusting someone, you empower them. It doesn’t take a ‘higher up’ to accomplish this. It takes anyone on a team who has good work ethic and good people skills. This starts at every corner of a company. And ripples out.
  4. De-personalize the issue.  Remember to think twice: if someone is acting aggressive, or putting down other teams, or putting you down – take a step back. What’s really at the bottom of their upsetness? Maybe they are projecting, or trying to build themselves up on the back of someone else, since what they are trying to do isn’t working. If that’s the case – try and forget the person for a second, and look at the problem itself. How can you play a part in solving it?  

As Tisha B’av closes out in a year that has shown us – if nothing else – that it can always get worse between us, I hope we can all start implementing even the most micro of conflict management strategies daily, with people we interact hourly, and create a ripple effect beyond office walls, into our neighborhoods, our towns, our schools, our governments, and beyond.


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