Post No.: 0798
Interpersonal conflict is almost inevitable in both social and work life; and we’re usually most upset by the adversarial interactions we have with those who are most important to us. Workplace disharmonies typically involve the tension between protecting or advancing our own interests and going with the flow or reconciliation.
Disagreements should perhaps occasionally occur though because it’s a sign that there’s no groupthink. They and rivalries are often the catalyst for change and growth, progress and social learning.
But they have to be managed constructively otherwise teamwork turns into infighting, escalation and spill-over effects. A high EQ doesn’t promise to make you like everyone but it enables you to handle conflicts more productively, coordinate efforts amongst diverse members to meet shared goals, generate win-win outcomes, and go home with a healthy, balanced deportment.
We can’t always avoid bumping into the workmates whom we have a strained relationship with. And if we continually attempt to actively avoid, or routinely acquiesce to the demands of, others to sidestep conflicts then this amplifies our own stress – stress that might’ve been unnecessary if only we talked, with courtesy, with those our concerns concern.
Related to our negotiation styles, we all have a main or preferred way of handling disagreements – from avoiding people (having a low concern for both oneself and the other party); acquiescing/yielding to them (having a low concern for one’s own desires); attempting domination (having a low concern for the other party’s desires); compromising (simply seeking for the middle ground even though this mightn’t be the most creative or optimal solution); and being collaborative (having a high concern for both oneself and the other party).
The collaborative approach is in most situations the best. This involves communicating and sharing information because both parties need to find common ground and solutions that’ll satisfy all. Instead of having the parties face each other across the table in an adversarial setup – get them to use the same whiteboard or flipchart to jointly map out and solve the dispute together. The objective of conflict resolution is to rebuild trust, reduce negative feelings and repair relationships – which won’t happen if we try to just ignore problems or merely battle to prove others wrong. Socially and emotionally intelligent people are able to enquire into the root causes of a colleague’s deviant behaviours and thus will ultimately handle workplace deviance better.
Some people behave like bitches (not innocent female dogs) only because they’re extremely anxious and perceive the slightest things as threats that/who they want out of their way. Their behaviour still isn’t pleasant or fair on others, and some anxious individuals can be the worst bullies of all since fear is at the root of all aggression, yet we might be able to better understand their behaviour. Post No.: 0788 explained how empathy is crucial in the workplace too. By raising the delicate issue of another person’s perceived deviance by first assuming no malicious intent on their part, it paves the way for more collaborative and compassionate, rather than accusatory or aggressive, interactions that’ll more likely lead to solutions instead of escalations of tension i.e. those with high EQ will seek positive-sum rather than zero-sum or negative-sum outcomes.
Leaders need to model this collaborative style because their conflict management style influences how others in the organisation will manage their conflicts too. Interpersonal conflict is one of the most common reasons for people leaving their jobs, hence socially and emotionally intelligent organisations will have grievance channels that make it easy and normal for employees to raise their discontents, and a culture that’s clearly and evidently grounded in pro-social and ethical values.
Sensitive issues should be raised with emotionally intelligent delicacy. State an explicitly designated time and place to talk. Ask the other party if you can share your thoughts, then use, “I…” language (like “I am feeling ignored”) to express your thoughts and feelings without making it sound accusatory (such as if you instead utter, “You’re ignoring me.”) Be specific about exactly what event(s) or incident(s) you’re concerned about and why rather than make unfair sweeping generalisations. Acknowledge your own role in this situation and be solution-oriented (perhaps by asking, “How might we make people feel included and valued during meetings?”) And be collaborative – try to solve it together.
Deliver constructive criticisms. Recognise points of agreement as well as disagreement. For some reason, people manage conflicts better when they’re walking together – maybe it’s because as your steps synchronise, you find that you’re both better able to get ‘on the same frequency’ as each other? Woof!
Apologise and forgive (yourself too) where appropriate. Apologising and forgiving (which isn’t the same as condoning something) are important in workplaces because people who’ve been feuding often still need to continue working together. Recall the times when you yourself screwed up, failed to understand something, failed to act on your values, failed to speak up when you should’ve said something, failed to stand up for someone who was mistreated or spoken unfairly of behind their backs – and you’ll realise how easy and common it is for everyone to make mistakes, especially in stressful contexts, that merit forgiveness. Remember the times when you’ve been forgiven for the mistakes you’ve made too. Those not involved in the conflicts who witness the apologies and forgiveness (or other virtuous behaviours) will feel the positive emotions too.
Overall, a high social and emotional intelligence brings out the best from an organisation. If you want to be an eloquent leader then know that people are more likely to voluntarily follow and be persuaded by those they like. (People might get behind you if you force them to, but half the reason will be because they’ll be looking to stab you in the back(!)) You can be warm in furry spirit, smile, laugh, be modest, and talk about the daily things that make up life with those you manage during the breaks or after work.
You do have to be firm and not be pushed around by those who seek to take advantage of you however. Anger is usually destructive, but displays of moral outrage at work (e.g. against the bigoted culture of the organisation) can signal something is wrong that needs the upper management’s immediate attention and careful response. A peaceful world can belie an unjust world if it’s only peaceful because people’s grievances are kept silenced or suppressed :X. So being nice, collaborative and approachable isn’t the same as being a wet cloth who cannot make tough decisions or get serious when required.
People who feel appreciated and esteem by others feel respected. The brain’s reward circuits get activated. Employees generally care about being respected as much as receiving promotions, advances, titles and even raises. Respected workers are more loyal and collaborative workers. People will more likely listen to you if they feel that you respect them. More than just words that express appreciation and gratitude – truly listening to people, being open to their ideas, curious about their strengths, and showing humility, fosters respect. Be mindful about how you’re orienting your body (towards or away from people), your eye contact and tone of voice too.
Be humble. Humble workplace cultures embrace the honesty and attitude for learning that leads to success.
Gratitude is beneficial at work too. After the end of any crisis, we can be grateful for what the experience has taught us or how we’ve improved because of it. Appreciating the light shouldn’t mean one should ignore or accept the shade – so expressing gratitude doesn’t mean you must accept hard or abusive situations instead of seek to change them. It doesn’t mean downplaying your own efforts. And it doesn’t mean you must feel indebted to others, which might cause resentment.
Little moments of laughter, play and fluffy levity are beneficial for bonding, creativity and health. A mentally and physically healthy workforce is a more productive and collaborative one.
And practise kindness. Remember that employees of a company are ultimately on the same team, and the competition is primarily against other companies rather than within one’s company. So when we’re collaborative and give resources to our fellow colleagues (e.g. knowledge, opportunities), this actually magnifies the quality of the work. Our active cooperation will spread to others within our organisation and lead to a collaborative culture where teammates are trying to lift each other up rather than push each other down. (And culture is an intangible asset that’s costly for rivals to imitate.)
Many of us will help others if they ask for it – hence people who’ll help you are out there. Yet we’re often afraid to ask for help ourselves when we need it. At work this is more common because we believe that we should uphold a conspicuously self-sufficient and low-maintenance persona, and assume that others won’t like being asked to help and don’t want to help us. We don’t want to appear incompetent, or sometimes we’re just control freaks. We also mightn’t wish to appear selfish or we feel we haven’t earned the privilege of making a request i.e. we think we can’t ask for help before we’ve given it to someone first. (But one of you has got to start the giving-receiving cycle! The long-term goal is to give and receive in balanced reciprocation but it’s okay to receive more than give in the short-term.)
This is despite collaboration often being the key to efficiency. We know this in wider business – partnerships or mergers between firms are sought to increase opportunities and efficiencies, and reduce threats and redundant duplications of work. Together, we are typically greater than the mere sum of our parts. Sometimes, the things we think are tricky are things that others find easy, and vice-versa, hence it’s worth pooling our different skill sets to work more effectively as a team. You might think a task will take hours to complete but after asking for help, another person takes just ten seconds to explain a shortcut that’ll help you get it done within minutes – it didn’t burden them whatsoever and you wouldn’t have known the trick if you hadn’t asked for help. We know that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’! It’s only insulting if you’re asking for too much or for something unethical. If someone says they can’t or won’t help then you’re no worse off than before asking. If you instead choose to quit your job because of the workload – then realise that the problem won’t have been the job or employer but your own failure to ask for help. If you struggle with asking – look for opportunities to help. You won’t appear selfish or needy if you’re generally helping others as you request help yourself.
As long as you make a thoughtful request, people will think you are more competent, not less. Ask the right people, or someone who might know someone who knows how to help you; even if they’re old, dormant ties. Make your request as specific as possible and explain why it’s important and meaningful. Mentioning a specific deadline is much better than a general one – if it’s urgent then say so. Urgency will motivate people to respond. Then saying, “Thank you” doesn’t cost a penny but supports these non-monetary motivations.
This all requires a workplace culture where people feel the psychological safety to speak up, admit to mistakes, and ask for help. Without it, they won’t even wish to share game-changing ideas or early warnings of threats or bad news. Bosses can cultivate this safety by modelling humility, gratitude, apologising when mistakes are made, asking for forgiveness, and by not being too proud to ask for help themselves. So instead of exhorting, “Why didn’t you come to me?!” when a request for help from an employee wasn’t made before it was too late – managers should stop to wonder what they did/didn’t do that made it difficult for others to tell them everything in confidence or safety.