There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our working conditions for the foreseeable future, and perhaps beyond – did we contemplate that we would also be impacted as much in the practice of managing day-to-day conflict? Most of all, did we anticipate having to manage an elevated level of conflict within ourselves?
Interacting with one another at work assumes conflict will occur between parties from time to time, and so it has become part of our job duties to manage interpersonal conflict in our workplaces effectively and efficiently. We know that avoidance or hiding conflict can be much more damaging in the workplace than facing it and dealing with it appropriately. Left unaddressed, interpersonal conflicts can result in reduced productivity, perceived unfair treatment, anger or hostility. Unaddressed conflict also adversely impacts others through their experiencing levels of discomfort, emotional abuse or problematic behaviour that can spiral rapidly out of control.
Most conflict revolves around unfulfilled needs: the psychological need for control, recognition, affection or respect, all of which are natural human needs. Holding on to resentment of people you work with punishes you as much as it does them. You will find that trying to control other people’s behaviour will not change your relationship with them, but changing your behaviour towards them certainly does.
What if the conflict lies within yourself? How do you address this? How do you stop punishing yourself and ‘lean-in’ to change when this battle occurs within yourself?
A colleague (a self-proclaimed introvert) recently stated they were excited by the prospect of being able to work from home as they would be able to get so much more done without being flanked by the bustling activities of the office; only to find four weeks later they were feeling decidedly less motivated and the lack of physical interaction with others contributed to them cross-examining their capability, skillsets and contribution to the organisation.
Another colleague reported that prior to the pandemic they felt they had control over their career and the role they were currently executing; only to be forced to deal with the advent of their organisation obtaining a perceivable controlling advantage through, having an option of enforcing redundancies to keep the business afloat.
Colleagues have also commented that they have fallen into the trap of working longer hours because they can; however, there are some who feel pressured to uplift their productivity and commitment by working longer hours in order to hold on to their position. One consequence of remote working is that differences of opinion now take longer to resolve than they usually would in an office environment due to the increased number of teleconferences, individual contacts and video links required to establish understanding, obtain buy-in and gain agreement.
These examples introduce a kaleidoscope of new pressures and stresses our colleagues are having to manage while working from home, which also brings into focus new conflicts not previously identified. Our colleagues are finding their conflict resolution and listening skills now need to be turned inwardly on a daily basis in order to create an ordered, connected, focused, joyous and productive environment to be fulfilled and keep motivated while working from home.
Listening is an active process. It often takes a deliberate effort to suspend our own needs and reactions and apply empathy to reach across the divide between ourselves and others. Passive attention does not work in a face-to-face conversation; but to listen well you must hold back what you have to say and control the urge to interrupt or argue. Anytime you demonstrate a willingness to listen with a minimum of defensiveness, criticism, or impatience, you are giving the gift of understanding, which results in a rapid path to resolution.
Emotions play an important role in our everyday behaviour and, much like Newton’s 3rd law of motion, there is no thought, attitude, idea, or action that does not have an equal and opposite reaction manifested in an emotional counterpart. Because of our childhood conditioning and societal norms, we often suppress or disguise our emotions, but they do exert their force on us no matter how subtle or indistinguishable a form they take.
The current pandemic has introduced pressures and stresses we previously viewed with an optimistic lens. We need to turn our attention to encouraging our people to use the tools we know bring success in approaches to conflict resolution with others; only now we must apply that within ourselves. Identifying or acknowledging the conflict in our feelings is the first step, as this tends to reduce their intensity and allows us to focus on the underlying issues or cause. We need to bring ourselves to understand negative feelings without fear of drowning in an eddy of despair. It is best not to leave these inner feelings submerged only to manifest in unmanageable ways later. We need to read and understand the inner conflict and objectively balance the positives and negatives and then act on the issues. After all, our internal ‘relationship’ is our most enduring one as it contributes to our sense of self-worth.
With most companies likely to return to work while the COVID-19 virus still exists, everyone needs to prepare for a very different working world requiring much more time spent working from home. There is an increased probability that our colleagues are experiencing similar emotional expressions to ourselves and appreciating this will make for empathetic conversation when next we meet.
At DB Results we continue to focus on our purpose to HELP, which includes improving personal health and wellbeing. This starts at home with our colleagues, who we are supporting with our platforms Wellness+ and MiOK. Listening to and showing respect for the people we work with reinforces our relationships and strengthens our connections with one another – especially when we are given opportunity to clarify what we think and discover what we feel. Encouraging our colleagues to reflect upon how they are managing themselves in a pandemic-influenced work environment is key to our continued success.