EDGE: Root & Web

Symptoms, Sources, Solutions

The first task in conflict management is to notice you are in one – either by recognizing your own symptoms or those of others or both. Conflict symptoms are the clues given that a problem exists. What signals get sent? How do we receive them? Noticing the conflict is a Call that leads to a door, a Gate In, to a personal transformation. Will you open the door?

Lola Wilcox on Conflict

Conflict Symptoms 

Among the more obvious symptoms of conflict:

  • no talking to other person(s)
  • complaining about the other(s)
  • blaming the other(s)
  • cutting remarks
  • shouting
  • thumping the table or slamming a door
  • pushing
  • hitting

Less obvious symptoms indicating a conflict is present: 

  • work not done – falling productivity
  • sick a lot, go in late, leave early
  • accidents
  • major illness

In the midst of all this we too often refuse to Engage when the conflict first arises because we are anticipating even more negative emotions and behaviors from the other. Negative past experiences with conflict leave us trailing hooks to latch on to the next one. Will we deal with it successfully this time, and continue to develop? Unfortunately, those past experiences also can leave us with a lot of resistance to trying anything new. This is one of the reasons conflict places us at our EDGE, our next step of growth.

In Case Study #1 (see below) two supervisors, AA and BB, lacked the skills and behaviors necessary to work through a conflict. Lacking them created a workplace situation left untouched for twenty years. What did they need to learn that would help them handle conflict differently?

Four Negative and Positive Patterns of Behaviors

Most emotions fall into one of four patterns that have a Negative, unproductive set of behaviors for dealing with conflict and an opposing Positive one. People come into our lives with either and sometimes both patterns. If we can recognize the Pattern, we can engage correctly and work towards a solution.

Pattern One: Blaming and Engagement

Unproductive:

Blaming

Words

Accusatory

Condescending

Body

Fingerpointing

Overpowering

Fear

I can’t win, won’t succeed.

Action

Address the Fear

Productive:

Engagement

(E of EDGE)

Words

Friendly, asking questions

Body

Open, leaning forward

Hope

My point of view matters.

Action

Meet at least half-way

Both AA and BB practiced Blaming. While blaming the other neither had to look at an underlying pattern of “I can’t win” at conflict; “I can’t succeed with this person.”

Pattern Two: Placating and Discussion

Unproductive:

Placating

Words

Agreeing constantly

Accommodates all demands

Body

Helpless

Fear

I’m worthless.

No power.

Action

Encourage thought

Point out placating isn’t helpful

Productive:

Discussion

(D of EDGE)

Words

Listening

Leveling; providing accurate information

Body

Eye contact

Showing interest

Hope

I will share what I know, see what I can learn.

Action

Listen

Share

AA and BB’S past managers practiced Placating. The new manager demanded Discussion: get together and work this out.

Pattern Three: Computing and Generation

Unproductive:

Computing

Words

Ultra-reasonable

Has facts and logic all lined up

Body

Expressionless

Rigidly calm

Fear

I’m vulnerable here.

Action

Encourage heart

Ask for concerns, worries, hopes

Productive:

Generation

(G of EDGE)

Words

Offer solutions

Body

Nods, “taking notes”

Hope

I’m willing to make and accept offers

Action

Offer own ideas

Both AA and BB had all their facts and logic lined up to prove the other person wrong. When all that failed in the face of an absurd misunderstanding, they moved immediately to solution Generation.

Pattern Four: Distraction and Energize

Unproductive:

Distracting

Words

Unrelated comments

Irrelevant behavior

Body

Angular

Confused movements

Fear

I’m scared and nobody cares.

Action

Reassure, then refocus conversation

Productive:

Energize

(E2 of EDGE)

Words

Commitment

Body

Awake

Ready

Hope

We can do this.

Action

Work together

AA and BB’s employees spent a lot of time distracting themselves and each other.

Knowing the symptoms of conflict allows us to know we are in one, who we hooked for our learning curve, and what negative behavioral patterns need to be transformed.

Commitment to Change

Both AA and BB utilized Blaming and Computing conflict avoidance behaviors. Their previous managers Placated – leaving them to their conflict as long as work could continue around it. The employees practiced Distraction, primarily through blaming of the other work group. The patterns of communication inside the Webs had solidified into Roles: an employee worked for AA or BB, and certain behaviors were encouraged or tolerated and others, like getting along and sharing the work, were not. 

The new manager refused to Placate. Calling in an intervener sent a message that behaviors were expected to improve, and thereby productivity would increase. 

Commitment to Change

Both AA and BB and all their workers woke up to the Roles they were playing. Conflict Management training was scheduled with the expectations that they would learn to work together. We’ll see how they did it in the next blog, #6: Role Training

Personal exploration

What are the signals you give others as a symptom that you are conflicted about something?

What do you want them to do when they observe you signaling?

What pattern of behavior do you use most?

Will you commit to live the positive side of that pattern?

 

Let me know how it’s going.

Case Study #1: Twenty Years of Baggage

Question 1:  When did you first become aware of, get to know each other?

Person AA’s Story

“It was 20 years ago, the week BB was first hired. BB was riding the bus and walking to work a long distance. It was winter. I offered to sell BB an old car we had, in good shape, and to pay for it later. BB drove the car for two weeks and then went back to riding the bus. I never saw the car again. So much for good deeds. BB did pay for the car – would hand me the payment without talking to me. Not even a thank you.”

Person BB’s Story

“When I first came to work. I was so grateful to have the job. We didn’t have a car and AA offered to sell me one, and pay later. I drove the car for a couple of weeks, and then it quit on me. It was going to take $1000 in repairs. I parked it in my garage and left it there. It took time but I paid AA every penny. We’ve not spoken since. What kind of person sells you a lemon when you’ve been down and out, and are just starting to get out of a hole.”

Question 2: What happened next? How did you get from then to now?

Over the 20 years of conflict both AA and BB would not work with the other. Managers accommodated their requests. Each was promoted. They would advise co-workers and eventually their employees that the other one couldn’t be trusted.

When both became supervisors their work unit employees supported their supervisor – no one knew the history, but the line in the sand was obvious. At this point their workers could not be friends, or share work assignments. The teams went so far as to leave messes for the other to solve or clean up.

Over the twenty years of slowly escalating conflict the upper management team first ignored it. It became so complex they didn’t know what to do, so they left it alone. By the time the new manager came, every one was creating assignments and work schedules that accommodated the feud.

The new manager would not tolerate the situation. Both AA and BB were unhappy they had to work with me as an intervener.

Nevertheless they cooperated in the individual interviews, and were honest in their answers to my questions. They came to a joint meeting prepared to find a solution to their conflict. 

Embarrassed both by their Root Cause, and the Webs they created, they called a halt to the conflict. Employees were signaled in multiple ways that the days of the conflict were over, and new behaviors were expected. 

The two worked diligently to learn conflict management skills. Their employees attended the Conflict Management class with both supervisors co-teaching with the trainer. They agreed to pay attention to conflict signals offered by others, and initiate conversations seeking solutions. 

Conflict Management Training was scheduled.

EDGE: Root & Web

Exploring Conflict as Transformer.

2021-06-29T18:37:22+00:00
Go to Top