Yesterday I was asked to deliver a workshop entitled “Cutting The Cost of Conflict In Law Firms” delivered at Cameron McKenna’s very swanky offices in Aldgate, London.
One of the delegates quipped at the start;
“You don’t expect us to admit to having any conflict do you?”
A joke, of course, but what is it they say about “Never a truer word said than a word said in jest?”
It is very difficult to admit to having conflict in the workplace, conflict in the boardroom or other organisational disputes. Conflict has this wonderful way of seducing us and part of that seduction is to introduce shame; Shame about the way we might be thinking or feeling about the other person; shame that we have not managed a situation better; shame that we have a dissatisfied customer.
And boy, is it a clever trick of conflict to pull, because if we feel shame about something then we do not, under any circumstances at all, ever, want to talk about it.
Try it. Post a comment below about something you feel deeply ashamed about. I bet you cannot do it.
If we are not going to talk about the fact that conflict is amongst us, let alone address the substantive issue that is in conflict, then conflict resolution becomes impossible. Seriously. We cannot resolve conflict without communicating.
When personal romantic relationships fall into conflict there can be a real fear that if we accept that conflict is present then we are also accepting that we no longer love each other. The presence of conflict can be seen by some as an indicator of the absence of love or trust. That is an unfortunate polarisation.
It is the happy ever after myth that we are peddled as children. It is one of the things I believe that drives separation and divorce. The presence of conflict is seen as an indicator that we are no longer committed to one another. On an unthinking level, a couple might conclude “This is not Happy Ever After. This relationship is a lie. It’s a sham.”
Within organisations the presence of conflict can sometimes be seen as a condemnation of a team leader or individual’s own ability to mix and maintain working relationships. The subject matter of the conflict might also arouse the inner demons of insecurity and imposter convictions…
A dissatisfied customer for example might convince us that we are no good at our job, that we cannot make the grade, that we are failures.
“Who do you think you are to be doing this work? They employed the wrong person. They were mistaken about you.”
We might become convinced, when in the thralls of conflict, that we are about to get sacked if this issue comes to the attention of employers or management.
As a result we try to do all that we can to suppress the conflict point, often unsuccessfully.
We become seduced and feel the shame of conflict.
Effective teams have no place for shame.
Teams that are committed to working together, to supporting one another and building one another up to achieve common goals must be built on mutual trust.
When we have trust then we are better able to step into those conflict spaces.
Instead of the polarised view of “We were a couple/team but now we are in conflict” we can shift to “We are a couple/team AND we are in conflict.”
Wow. This heralds a rich opportunity and environment to explore what it means to still be committed to one another, remain loyal to our teams or respectful of the clients we serve and still be able to work through the conflicted issues together.
When we focus back on the trust we have built up (and you can see the assumption I am making here, right? I mean, you have invested in your trust account with one another haven’t you?) then we can be quite open both about the conflict itself and even the shame that it invites us to feel.
“You know what? I’m feeling really embarrassed about this right now. Do you think we can work together to find a way to move forwards?
The biggest key to conflict resolution is to have the confidence in ourselves and our personal and professional relationships to be able to recognise and act when conflict is with us. If we turn away from the shame that conflict tries to seduce us into and instead lean into the trust that we have already built, and if we have the low level skills to apply, then we can manage conflict in the workplace and the home so much better.
Oh and that workshop yesterday? Turns out law firms have plenty of conflict in the boardroom, the offices and the kitchens. But you had guessed that already hadn’t you?
If you would like to book Neil Denny’s “Cutting The Cost Of Conflict” for your organisation please see Neil’s Learning and Development company website.