An organisation is an organism – a (hopefully functional) system of individuals working together in teams to achieve the overall objectives of the business. However, each individual is different, and we all have our own beliefs, behaviours, strengths and desires. It is inevitable that the moment we work with others there will be conflict – conflict that we will all understand, perceive and behave differently towards. Here are just a few examples of what makes us different:
- Gender/identity/sexual orientation
- Cultural background
- Belief systems
- Personal values
- Life experiences
- Work ethic
- Personality profile
- Character strengths
In a positive organisation, diversity is considered an asset, as the more differences that exist in a team the more innovative, effective and representative the business becomes. Positive conflict resolution thus plays a vital role in ensuring people see eye to eye and work collaboratively to achieve business outcomes.
Positive Conflict Resolution
So what is positive conflict resolution? It involves the willingness of all parties to forgive each other without punishment, to seek understanding and compromise and find ways to respect and tolerate each other for the greater good of the organisation. While this may sound like an ideal, and difficult to achieve, it all starts with the collective desire to grow ourselves and others, to bring out the best in the people around us and believe that that they are doing the same for us.
Below are 3 fundamental strategies to start making conflict your friend and start bringing positivity into your working environment.
Organisations have a vision and mission, and each individual forms a vital part of achieving these goals. It is this common shared purpose that makes people show up for work, achieve their individual tasks and feel a sense of meaning from their contribution. This is the common ground which supports positive conflict resolution; however, this shared purpose needs to be communicated clearly (both verbally and written).
Another perspective to consider when driving home the idea of unity, and one of the fundamental principles of Buddhism, is the acknowledgement of our common humanity and our shared suffering. This takes empathy and may not be easy for everyone, but a good starting point would be “I recognise your humanity, I acknowledge that we are all trying to do our best, I respect your suffering because I too am suffering in my own way.”
While this may seem a bit fluffy, it is beginning to build a culture where everyone is heard, respected and validated. By having your employees acknowledge their similarities, a sense of unity is built, and people can resolve conflicts easier with the objective of reducing suffering and achieving the shared mission and vision in the organisation.
Trust in an elusive concept and can truly make or break an organisation’s employee job satisfaction and retention. Trust in an organisation involves each individual holding the firm belief in the reliability, integrity and capability of the organisation to meet their needs without doubts and suspicions.
Trust is developed over time from an ongoing sense of psychological safety – with colleagues, leaders and from the overall actions of the company. In order for employees to feel confident to trust, their Triune Brain needs to be satisfied.
The theory of the Triune Brain states that in order to learn, explore and grow, an individual’s reptilian brain – which supports their survival – needs to be satiated. They need to be out of fight or flight mode in order to really thrive. Conflict, while necessary and inevitable, is one area where unnecessary stress can build, and if not managed correctly can affect the individual’s ability to contribute and be productive.
Thus in order for employees to develop trust in the organisation, there needs to be:
- Healthy, honest and transparent communication
- Consistency in the enforcement of company policies across the board
- Timeous reparation of confusions or misunderstandings
- A shared belief in the organisation’s capacity to do good, for the good of their staff
Implementing a positive conflict resolution culture in your organisation requires consistency and a set of standards and expectations for all individuals, with no exclusions or special allowances – the CEO is as liable as the grounds staff to manage conflict in a healthy way. In order to implement an effective conflict resolution policy, it is important to write down your organisational values and how these translate to the treatment of employees. Have these written up, signed by staff, and posted around the office to remind everyone of how to treat each other.
Another strategy is to encourage ongoing conversations where employees can air their concerns or questions. This makes them feel included, important and respected and can set the tone for the way the organisation’s culture grows. When people are heard and respected the differences in their opinions are more manageable as people do not need to fight for power and can build the psychological safety and confidence needed to really bring their best to work.
In Conclusion: Differences into Potential
Conflict is your friend.
It is through conflict that we learn more about each other, gain perspective on ourselves and harness the power of diversity. We are all different and conflict is inevitable; however, with a shared sense of unity, a strong trust in the organisation and a culture of healthy and safe conflict management, your employees will find their voice, express their best ideas and become more productive and collaborative. This culture of positive conflict resolution will enhance the overall effectiveness of the organisation to grow and thrive in expected and unexpected ways.