Anytime people gather together, great things can happen…and, sometimes conflicts can happen, too. In the business arena, some conflicts seem huge and intractable. If they are handled well, with a visionary leader and a competent technical staff, differences can be hashed out and the company’s best product may come online. But conflicts that seem small and inconsequential, if they are handled poorly, can create rifts between people. If not checked, a misunderstanding can grow into a feud that is felt by the entire team.

Conflict resolution consists of several aspects, all of which are beneficial to bring into the company culture. One is a clear understanding of what conflict is, and the power it has to open up new doorways for creative growth.

Conflict may be defined as “a disagreement, clash, struggle or battle between ideas, principles, or people”. Yet ideas and principles do not clash by themselves - people are always involved. When we have the skills to handle conflict well, we learn more about each other, and the clashes make room for creative new ideas and possibilities.

Most people are afraid of conflict, and shy away from disagreement of any kind. They wish it would just go away, and may act as though it doesn’t exist. This denial can take many forms, such as avoiding people and places where conflict may occur. When employees are avoiding each other, communication sours and efficiency in the workplace goes straight downhill.

In addition to avoidance, many people resort to gossip as a way to handle their dissatisfaction. This polarizes the office, with sides taken up and secret conversations held. The atmosphere becomes charged and uneasy. In addition to escalating the conflict, rising tension around the office can contribute to illness and absenteeism. Essential work isn’t completed, deadlines aren’t met, stress increases, and the whole team suffers.

A few people seem to relish conflict. They look for it, create it and bully others in aggressive ways. These are the “difficult people” who like to dominate others on their way to “get ahead”. They often play with power and want a steady supply of attention. Rather than avoid conflict, these people try to use it to their advantage. Working with them is like working with a big gorilla in the office. Their teammates may become confused, annoyed and frustrated…setting off another round of avoidance, gossip and intrigue.

Fortunately, there is a middle ground between avoidance and aggression. This is the ideal space in which we can work with conflict: the territory of compromise and problem solving. In contrast to avoidance and aggression, which don’t take much skill, this middle ground requires patience, intelligence, thoughtfulness, creativity and respect. These are attributes that can be learned if they are not already present as personality traits. From top management down to the lowest level of employee, everyone can benefit from learning these skills, so that all members of the company are transformed into fantastic problem solvers.

One of the keys to conflict management is to train staff members in communication skills, so that they will be able to stop a conflict from escalating. Remember – conflict will escalate unless one or more employees take the initiative to reverse the trend. Once the team is trained, they will be able to use their skills at the outset of a disagreement, to “nip the problem in the bud”. They will support each other to be candid, respectful and sincere in their work toward resolution.

Communication skills consist of listening with an open mind, expressing safely and respectfully, having mutual respect for all people involved, and stress reduction techniques for calming the mind and emotions. These things have to be practiced with diligence, because most people have not been taught how to listen or express in the best possible way. Instead, our society supports a normative culture where interruption, bullying, secrecy and jockeying for power dominate. These things may not be obvious, but they are nonetheless potent underlying features of human interaction.

To counteract the destructive force of these outmoded social patterns, company members must be sincere in their practice of new techniques, forming new communication habits and a new paradigm inside the corporate culture. Simply reading a book about the subject is not enough to change a lifetime of conditioned responses to conflict. This is why ongoing support from management signals leadership to the entire company. Conflict can then move from being avoided or misused to being a motivating force for innovative change.

3 Communication Skills for your personal practice:

1. When tensions rise with a fellow staff member, remember to be aware of your breathing. To lower your stress, breathe out slowly. Count to 4 as you inhale, then count to 8 as you exhale. Repeat this “relaxing breath” as much as you need to. Fill your torso with replenishing oxygen as you calm yourself down and clear your mind.

2. Listen to others with an open heart. Notice if you are already preparing what you are going to say next, and let it go. Give your full attention to what is being said, knowing that you don’t have to agree with it. Give the kind of deep listening to others that you would like receive from them as well.

3. Pause before you respond. Check to see if you might be in an old habit of reaction to what was said. Ask yourself if you are giving the most respect possible to the situation and the people involved before you speak. Be aware of the power of your words to be either constructive or destructive…and choose with care.

Author's Bio: 

Ana Holub is a consultant, teacher and mediator. She specializes in practical skills for your professional and personal happiness, peace and inner connection. Get free downloads and learn more about how peace education can open up a whole new life for your business!