COM 325 Communication & Conflict
Conflict is a part of life, there is no way around it. Our ability to manage and resolve conflict will determine our ability to create respectful relationships and to grow within a company. To successfully handle conflict, you must understand why conflict occurs and the role of personality types in conflict. You must also learn communication techniques, how to manage stress and anger, and you must learn when it is appropriate to forgive. I will explain how I used these skills in a conflict I was involved in at my place of work.
I started working for my company in 2006. I was able to excel in everything I was assigned and was fortunate to advance quickly. I gained a lot of experience and developed a great network. Several years later, this new guy was hired. Like me, he was talented, resourceful and determined to develop his skills for growth. We found ourselves competing for opportunities, and we became close friends. Eventually, we took different paths, and both found success. He was able to advance quicker and eventually recruited me to his department with the promise of me taking over once he left. About 18 months later, the time came for him to be promoted, he was relocating to a different state. I believed everything was going to plan, I was now in line for a promotion. My friend, who also happened to be my boss assigned me tasks and was very specific about what I needed to do to be ready to fill his position when he left. I worked hard and believed I was ready. Unfortunately, he didn’t agree. He called me into his office so that we could discuss my progress. He told me that I wasn’t ready. He said that he appreciated my efforts and thought I was definitely headed in the right direction, but at this time he was going to recommend someone else. This was the beginning of our conflict, and it only got worse from there. It took effort from both of us to eventually resolve it.
Why does conflict occur?
To manage conflict, it is important to understand what exactly conflict is and why it occurs. Conflict is when two or more people have opposing views on a situation, job, task or assignment. Perspectives, thoughts, and opinions vary in such a way that may not be conducive to finding a solution unless understood and handled correctly .
I was shocked by my boss’s statement, at first, I thought it was a joke. Once I determined that he was serious, I rudely asked him why. We began as friends, so I had no concern about acting professional. Looking back, I actually said somethings that I should not have. I asked if it was because he has a thing for the female he was recommending or if he was just being a sheep and doing what his superiors thought he should do. He instantly got defensive and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and how dare I question his integrity. He then proceeded to explain why he didn’t believe I was ready. He wasn’t calm, cool and collected. He was angry and began to belittle me and talk down to me. He rattled off things that I was terrible at and told me that I would never again advance within the company. He was very harsh, and I wasn’t any better, I didn’t agree with his feedback. This was my friend, I supported him, and I helped him on his path to find success. I felt let down like I was stabbed in the back, I felt betrayed.
At the beginning of the conflict, our views were extremely different. We stopped thinking reasonably and began trying to be right. We each wanted to win the argument. We stopped listening to understand and began hearing just to respond or one-up the other. We argued, we slammed doors, and we damaged our relationship. The trust was gone, and we could no longer work together. We avoided each other for several days, there was no seeing eye to eye. We were both stressed out, and we were both angry, so why even try?
Stress and anger
Stress can be caused by a number of different things. There is good stress, and there is bad stress. An example of good stress also known as eustress would be a field goal kicker that needs to kick the ball through the uprights to win the game. Then there is bad stress, when we are bored, overwhelmed, or when we lose control (Cahn & Abigail, 2014). Anger begins with displeasure and typically escalates from there, it can cause people to shut down or to even inflict physical or emotional pain (Cahn & Abigail, 2014). Unfortunately, anger in the workplace is becoming more and more common. This is due to stress from work-life conflicts, such as job uncertainty, rising costs and high personal debt (The Press, 2008). It is important that we stop and breathe. When you are stressed out or angry, we tend to skip this step, because we don’t care. If our mind is focused on something else other than collaboratively solving a problem, then chances are, we will only escalate the conflict. Our anger and stress need to be harnessed and controlled otherwise it will only impede the resolution and prolong a solution.
I was extremely stressed out, I was trying to do all the right things and impress all the right people. I was working really hard, and I was extremely overwhelmed with everything I was taking on. I had my own financial struggles, and I knew this promotion would help. All of this extra stress clouded my judgement when my boss gave me the bad news. I didn’t stop to consider if there was any merit to what he was telling me. I just got angry and was convinced that he was full of it. He was out to get me, and I didn’t care what he had to say.
It is important to give ourselves personal time and space to think things through. We can’t avoid being life stressors and controlling anger is a task very difficult to master. We need to ensure we are educating ourselves and developing our minds. We should all dedicate time to becoming more self-aware and how our personality affects conflict management.
Role of personality types in conflict management
To resolve conflict, you must understand that there are different personality types and the cause and effect of those personalities. Certain personalities are easy to communicate with, but some are extremely difficult. Some personalities are prone to anger, and when they are severely provoked it can turn to rage. Some personalities seek validation and will hide true emotions to fit in and appear secure .
Our personality is part of who we are, it’s a part of our core. Some people are aggressive in trying to get their way, some are more passive. Some people see it as a challenge to prove facts, others don’t want to waste energy. My boss had a strong personality. He was fairly short, so I refer to his personality type as the short man syndrome. He was combative, argumentative, he would not be controlled, and he would not cave when challenged. My personality was similar, but not quite the same. While I like to be in control, I don’t care much for drama and being combative. I want to appear secure, be heard and be recognized for my effort. He was much more headstrong and stubborn about being right. I took a more passive route because I knew I could prove that I was right.
For us to get to a resolution, we had to take a step back and cool our heads. We were friends, so we knew each other. We knew how we would respond to aggressive behavior and passive comments. It is not conducive to either of our personalities to attempt to communicate while our blood was boiling. We were both ticking time bombs, just waiting to be detonated. With a clear mind, we both could admit that we were just going deeper down the rabbit hole making things worse every time one of us would open our mouths. Before we could successfully communicate, we would need to take a time out.
You can react in violence, you can communicate in a destructive way, you can shut down or even take a passive-aggressive role, or you can choose the collaborative technique, where you must be assertive in sharing your perspective . It is important to be aware of triggers and how you feel. Before you can successfully communicate through conflict, we need to follow the S-TLC system or the six-step confrontation process. Both of these require us to stop and think. We need to give ourselves the opportunity to identify what the problem, issue, concern or need is. What do we want to accomplish and how can we accomplish this? What is their problem, issue, concern or need?
Our initial conversation started all wrong. We were both combative and argumentative. My boss started by being passive aggressive, landing little jabs and being sarcastic when delivering feedback to me. I played the victim role and painted him as the villain. I accused him of things that were inappropriate. We were not communicating, we were bickering and trying to get under each other’s skin. Our argument went on and on for what seemed like an eternity. I am sure it was only a few minutes, but I eventually chose to shut down, I was so angry, and I wasn’t doing myself any favors. I was right, and he was wrong, I chose not to be the aggressor, so I just went silent. I let him finish his rambling and I left.
We used several communication techniques, destructive, passive, but matters only got worse. We avoided each other for several days before we spoke again. We were both passive in conversation and didn’t accomplish much as far as resolving the conflict. We still worked together professionally, but conversations were brief, and contact was minimal. I eventually utilized the S-TLC method and was able to self-reflect. I still felt wronged, but I was wrong in how I behaved. I requested a meeting with him. He is not the type to show weakness, which is what apologizing is to people like him. So I took the initiative. When I sat down in his office, I looked him in the eye, and I said I am sorry. I should have never spoke to you the way I did, whether you are my friend or not. We were in a professional setting, and you deserve more respect than that.
Holding on to grief, pain or hurt is bad for an individual . If we are too focused on the past, we will miss out on the opportunities of the future. We have to learn to live and let go. Forgiveness is not necessary if it is warranted, but a professional relationship still must be maintained. Forgiveness is a form of emotion-focused coping, where a person that fills wronged transforms negative emotions to positive or neutral feelings .
This situation was hard on us, it tarnished our relationship both personally and professionally. I didn’t trust him, in fact, I despised him. Our relationship was absolutely damaged, we both spoke poorly about each other behind one another’s backs. But when we finally came to our senses and chose to communicate, we realized all of the wasted efforts working against each other could have been better utilized in bringing one another up.
After we apologized and forgave one another, we had the conversation we should have had in the first place. I expressed how his approach made me feel and how he could have handled it differently. With him promoting to a new role, it is important that he can successfully communicate with his subordinates. This is typically one of my strengths, so I offered him some suggestion on how to do that in his new position. In return, he was able to give me honest and constructive feedback. He gave me very specific and tangible things I should focus on. I saw truth in his perspective, so I committed to resolving those concerns and improving my overall performance and professionalism. It wasn’t long after he left for his new role that I was promoted. I owe a lot of my success to him because his feedback for me was spot on. It has been a few years now, but I am still in contact with him, we are still friends, and we have both continued to find success.
This was a learning experience for both of us. How we handled the situation to begin with was wrong and our behaviors only made the problem worse. This is a bad example of how to manage conflict. We were not able to solve the problem until we took the time to stop, think, listen and communicate . This method is a solid proven technique for conflict resolution and it is a best practice I have utilized on several occasions.
Conflict can be bad, but it can also be good. Whether it is good or bad depends on our willingness and ability to manage and resolve it. There are five significant steps in developing this ability. They are, understanding why conflict occurs, the impact of stress and anger, what roles personality types play in conflict, positive communication, and learning to forgive.