Cool It | Tips to Extinguish Confrontation in the Office

July 28, 2016

From the desk of Dr. Kevin Kirk, president of Community Care College, Clary Sage College, and Oklahoma Technical College.

Recently, while flying home from my vacation, I picked up a Southwest Airline magazine and read the following article on “Conflict”. It is a short read, and I felt it was a good message that can be valuable to us, as we all have various conflicts in life. As the author indicates, conflict in life is inevitable. There were several valuable takeaways from this article for me, and I hope you feel it is useful as well.

Cool It 

Extinguish office squabbles with aid from expert Dan Shapiro.

What’s at the core of all conflict?

“The first thing to recognize is that conflict is absolutely natural,” says Shapiro, the founder and director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program and the author of Negotiating the Nonnegotiable. “Almost all emotionally charged conflicts are driven by threats to our identity. Oftentimes in the workplace, there’s a push and pull between affiliation (how connected you feel to an organization) and autonomy (how much freedom you have in an organization). All of this plays into a phenomenon I call the Tribes Effect, a mindset of us versus them.”

How do we neutralize the “us versus them” mindset?

“Conflict tends to stem from a lack of appreciation. Neither side feels appreciated, yet both sides desperately want appreciation from each other. The first step to reconciliation is surfacing each person’s grievances. After acknowledging your colleague’s feelings, try to empathize with him or her. Only then can you work to rebuild positive relations.”

What then?

“To better understand what’s keeping you stuck in conflict, try to describe your feelings using a metaphor. A metaphor allows you to talk about very sensitive issues without as much vulnerability. Imagine there’s a piece of clay on the table between you and your colleague; the two of you are sculpting it together, and you can talk about it. The result is a powerful shift in perception. “

Any other resolution strategies?

“People often assume that a conflict must be adversarial – me versus you – but research suggests otherwise. Aim to turn the other person from an adversary into a partner: ‘You’re not the problem, and I’m not the problem; the problem exists between us, so how can we deal with it?’ Framing your conflict as a shared challenge from the outset can have a huge impact on the outcome.”