When you hear the word “conflict,” what comes to mind?
Ask 100 people and you’ll get a variety of responses. A few people have positive, healthy associations with conflict, but most do not. The majority of people I work with have experienced the casualties of conflict in the form of passive-aggressive behavior, escalation resulting in violence, broken relationships, and uncomfortable tension.
In fact, research on workplace conflict shows that people around the world spend, on average, 2.1 hours per week, or more than one day per month, dealing with workplace conflict in some way. In the U.S., that number is higher (2.8 hrs/week) equating to approximately $359 billion in paid hours. Non-profit sectors experience the most workplace conflict, with nearly 48% of employees reporting conflict at work. This conflict often escalates into personal attacks, insults, or absence from work. People end up feeling demotivated, angry, frustrated, nervous, and stressed.
It’s not surprising that when I Google the word “conflict,” the terms “resolution,” “mediation,” “management,” and “reduction” all pop up. Each of these words sends a not so subtle message about our association with conflict; it needs to be managed, reduced, resolved and mediated.
The problem with conflict mediation, conflict management, and conflict reduction is that each one makes conflict out to be a bad guy.
These labels, and a lot of conflict interventions, reinforce the false belief that if we just remove the conflict, matters will be better.
Conflict is simply the gap between what we want and what we are experiencing at any point in time. Neither good nor bad, this gap generates energy.
When we mediate, manage, or reduce the conflict away, we also take away the energy available for productive solutions. When we respect the tension and use that energy constructively, the results can be transformative.
Things to ponder:
- What have been your previous associations with conflict? In your eyes, does it have a bad reputation? Why or why not?
- Where do you feel the energy of the gap? Pounding heart? Tension in your muscles? Pit in your stomach? Racing thoughts?
- How do you spend that energy?
- What would be different if you thought of conflict merely as energy in the gap between what you want and what you are experiencing?