Respond (Pause), Don’t React to Conflict in Business and at Work

After a weekend spent in two different mediation / conflict resolution training workshops in different parts of New York state – Generating Movement at Mediation Matters in Albany (my “home” mediation center where I periodically volunteer as a mediator), and Responding Effectively to Workplace Conflicts:  The Relational Approach at The Mediation Center of Dutchess County – I’m struck by the opportunities and resources we have to respond constructively and effectively to conflict in business and at work.  Especially poignant is the opportunity to respond from a place of empowerment, rather than from the fear of being victimized by jerks, real or imagined, at work.

I was reminded and inspired in particular by the latter training, delivered by Dr. Joseph P. Folger of Temple University, author of among other works, The Promise of Mediation.   In his work at both Temple University and The Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation, Dr. Folger has identified common sources of significant workplace conflicts, including but not limited to:

  • Unsanctioned (by the organization) Negative Conflict Behaviors
  • Managers’ Conflict Avoidance
  • Employee Incompetence (e.g., poor job fit) or Lack of Accountability
  • Desire for Independent Work (e.g., the preference to work without people interaction)
  • Understaffing, Overwork, Burnout
  • Competition for Advancement and Promotion
  • Blinding Egocentrism
  • Workplace Relationships Not Seen as Personal Relationships
  • Different Work and Communications Styles
  • Inadequate Conflict Training (Emphasis Mine).

In the spirit of Let There Be Peace at Work, and Let It Begin with Me, Dr. Folger took us through an intriguing reflection process that included but not was not limited to taking a fearless and personal inventory of our own role in responding (and perhaps preventing) conflict at work.

Critical to taking a responsible and empowered role in navigating conflict in business and at work is the power of the pause:  taking a moment to respond mindfully, rather than react viscerally, in the face of conflict.  Some response strategies include, but are not limited to:

  • Delaying a response in the moment – “Could you please repeat the question?”
  • Remaining silent (a Zen challenge to us Myers-Briggs Extroverts!)
  • Set a specific date / time for when you will respond.

Dr. Folger’s teaching / coaching resonated with me, especially in invoking my earlier career experience in corporate press relations.  We were plagued by a local reporter always looking for trouble / melodrama at my plant.  He’d call me about once a month with a “when did you stop violating the law?” question.  My visceral and (thankfully unspoken!) instinct was to react and tell him off, New-York-City style.  My press relations training gave me the power of the pause to respond:  “I hadn’t heard about that particular issue – can I get back to you before your deadline tonight with our response?”   I was consistent and responsive – meeting the reporter’s need for information for his story, never reactive, e.g. selfishly venting my spleen and igniting a self-indulgent gasoline wildfire of conflict, which is really what the reporter sought. While the restraint of the response was not in my comfort zone, the results were unmistakable: mostly neutral press coverage, and one memorable positive quote that caught the attention of our global CEO, who circled my quote in the reporter’s article and sent the clipping to my plant GM with a “Nice Job!” love note scribbled in the margin.

How will you use the power of the pause to respond constructively to conflict this week, in business and at work?

My Or Your Way Signpost Showing Conflict Or Disagreement

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