E15- “Managing Conflict” Part 1- In this episode, we start by exploring the fate of a powerful Samurai lord that paid the price for not managing conflict well. We will give you a recipe that you want to avoid for baking a nasty batch of conflict cookies in your organization. We will wrap up with a reflection about how managing conflict is a responsibility, just like delivering the mail.
Recipe for “Conflict Cookies”
- First get a big bowl and fill it full of people.
- Next, add a teaspoon of conflict over an issue in the workplace. This teaspoon is the inevitable conflict that occurs when people work together. It looks like a disagreement on a process, a time sheet, who gets the last cup of coffee, who has to do someone else’s work…It can really be anything.
- Add a cup full of “making it personal” to the disagreement. (You can find “a cup of making it personal” in all human beings. Sometimes it is because one person is not being heard, one person is stepping into someone else’s territory or there is some change outside of their control has them frustrated and they direct it at someone. Sometimes “making it personal” is just that. People have conflicting personalities or they just rub each other the wrong way when under stress.
- Put in a full stick of “someone acts nasty to someone else” into the mix. This really makes the conflict cookie dough start to rise. This is when people act nasty to each other. And what I mean by nasty is being rude, uncivil, passive aggressive or outright hostile.
- You need to add a pinch of public interest to the batter. Word gets around that there is a fight, and people gather around it and talk about it like it is a fight between two 10-year-old boys on the playground after school. Gossip and speculation become the output of the organization for a while as people circle like vultures to see what will happen next.
- Now the recipe calls for the application of heat. That heat is leadership. Heat is applied when leadership does nothing about the conflict. Leadership observes the conflict or is made aware of it yet they do nothing to address the conflict and the bad behavior.
- The disagreement is long-running and escalates. It only gets worse and more out of control. That is really where the heat happens and the conflict is really baking in the organization. As that conflict cooks, there are winners and losers. People are distracted and their brains are flooded with negative stress chemicals. The conflict is all they think about.
- People begin to count the cost and feel the effects of the conflict. They feel like they are “on their own” in a hostile work environment. They begin to resent the person that they are in conflict with AND they resent the leadership that did not address it.
- The conflict is done baking and the leader now gets to pull out the treat they baked. Conflict cookies are a hard-baked, burnt, foul tasting cultural norms that yield a cookie sheet full of hot steamy failure. Here is what it those cookies look like.
- The results are short-term. Without a sense that a leader will provide a safe environment, productivity goes down and results are harder and harder to get. Everyone is focused on their own problems.
- People begin to leave the organization. Usually, it is people that get tired of getting pushed around. Usually, it is someone that is talented and produces for you. The bad apples seem to stick around because they don’t have as many options to leave. NO one feels safe. So no one speaks up. No one feels like the boss will protect them. No feels like they should take a risk and speak the truth because they will be on their own.
- The leader ends up with an organization full of people that are nasty to each other. The nasty behavior seems to be accepted as part of the culture. Making it personal and being nasty to other people can be very effective in getting someone what they want in the short term, especially if no one is checking this bad behavior. So they are nasty to other people and it gets them ahead and they do it again and again. It becomes part of the culture.
- What leaders are left with is a broken organization that limps along because it is full of fear, anger, and resentment.
Here is the bottom line on conflict cookies. They don’t have to be made. If a leader chooses to address conflict then there is never any heat applied to the dough. The conflict never rises.
“It is a leader’s job to ‘deliver the mail’ no matter if the news is going to be perceived as good news or bad, just like the mail carrier has to deliver refund checks and bills all the same, rain or shine.”- Mitchell Watkins
It is hard not to make conflict personal, but when you begin to view managing conflict as a responsibility and as a way to communicate truth and create safety, it becomes what you must do instead of what you can occasionally choose to do.
“When fate throws a dagger at you, there are two ways to catch it. If you catch it by the blade, you can harm yourself. But if you catch it by the handle, you can use it to help you fight through the obstacles ahead.” – Norman Vincent Peale