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Workplace Conflict – How to be at peace in conflict?

Conflict resolution. How to be at peace in conflict? An exploration of key tools – taking responsibility, staying engaged, understanding ‘the other’, reflecting deeply and having a deep intent to reconcile and be an instrument of peace.

Conflict in the workplace is a huge energy waster. It makes us unproductive, produces negative thought patterns, leads to unhappiness, which in turn impacts our colleagues and those near and dear to us at home. So how do we stay at peace while experiencing or witnessing conflict? As someone who is naturally conflict averse (peace-maker personality type etc.), I typically avoid it. But a recent workshop I co-facilitated has led to conflict being exposed and exacerbated; so here I find myself engaged in the resolution of this breakdown in trust – not just between individuals, but at a collective, functional level between two groups in a client organisation.

So is it possible to be at peace in conflict? My answer, rather than a glib response I might have given just a year ago, is still a resounding ‘yes’! But what’s involved? It means looking squarely at the situation and evaluating one’s own role in it – taking responsibility for one’s contribution, replacing blame with dispassion. It means being willing to stay engaged, to not withdraw for fear of making it worse. It means having a deep intent to reconcile different opinions and hurts with one’s own world-view. It means being willing to let go of ‘being right’ and look for the best possible outcome, the win-win.

As always, it starts with the internal passive world of reflection, releasing anger in a safe way – without attack or blame to oneself or another. In the internal world of stillness the thoughts and emotions can dissipate, clearing the way for open and clear dialogue. Here’s my 3-step process to being at peace in conflict:

1. Be still – enter the silence. Bring awareness to your breath. Review the situation that has led to conflict. What role have you played? What role has ‘the other’ played? What can you still appreciate about ‘the other’ party? Observe your emotions as you review the situation.

2. Create a Vision. Ask yourself – What is the highest outcome from this situation? How can I serve as an instrument of peace? Visualise what the best outcome looks like.

3. Ask, ‘What is my next step’? From this place of stillness and reflection, ask – What do I need to do now? It could be as simple as knowing a meeting is coming up with the individual concerned present – and that your next step is simply to smile at them. It can also be bold – approaching them in public and verbally apologising for any part you may have played in the conflict. Only you will know what your next step is (and it could be ‘do nothing’) – but it will come from a place of deep inner knowing, rather than the ‘fight or flight’ stress response that escalates and worsens conflict.

Repeat the above process at regular intervals, and let go of any attachment to outcome. At the end of the day, conflict resolution usually requires one or more parties to reconcile their differences; but how you feel about it is down to your own relationship to it, to your inner being at peace, regardless of how it looks on the outside.

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Comments (4)

  1. Sensitive and insightful. I would just like to add that during the “Be silent” moments there is an opportunity to ask oneself “When did I ever feel exactly this way when I was a child”. That often opens up some important doors of perception. We bring our patterns about how to handle conflict with us from our original organization, the family right into the workplace. When we can observe and understand these patterns we can trasnform them. Avoiders and peace makers become great initiators to look for healthy solutions and peacemakers, or rescuers become excellent mentors.
    Sylvia Lafair author “Don;t Bring It to Work”

    • Thank you for the suggestion Sylvia. This is in fact how I’ve managed to unravel and understand my own ‘default’ response to conflict, and also in other aspects of work. It makes no difference whether we’re wearing our jeans at home, or a suit at work, we’re the same vulnerable beings trying to be the best we can be in challenging environments.

  2. Great post, Joolz. The problem is not
    conflict itself but our response to it that is disabling. We forget conflict
    has generative power and lies at the heart of new ideas,
    creativity, and, ultimately, change. Without it there would be no vital
    force and energy to drive our selves through periods of stagnation and
    paralysis, towards progress and growth, which is why a Leader should be
    prepared to promote positive conflict. But it does require skill and resource
    building (like practicing your 3 step process) to change our conflict
    “habits” and our somatic response, so we are able take more effective
    action in the midst of it.

    • Thanks Kirstie… From an ‘enlightened business’ perspective, a leader is one who can ‘be’ with conflict rather than ‘do’ conflict… takes practice!

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