In this ongoing series about what the Beating Conflict Manifesto might look like we turn to the issue of defensiveness.
Here’s a curious thought; We do not have conflict until someone becomes defensive.
Is that an aggressor’s charter? Not at all.
Of course attacks and challenges need to be managed and resolved.
Within a workplace setting this may well mean disciplinary measures being taken – quick note – conflict resolution should not be used as an excuse for not managing a difficult situation. I have previously turned down training work where it appears that conflict resolution workshops are being used as a soft alternative to unnattractive management steps being taken.
Attacks – and we are talking verbal challenges here – can be perceived or real.
I can be awful, really bad, at perceiving an attack in almost anything that is said to me. It is something that I have to work very hard upon. Because I am aware of it and take conscious steps to manage my own perception and subsequent response I have now got reasonably good at doing so.
I recall the end of one workshop I delivered to a team. The organiser had been anxious about how I would respond to the resistance within the group and came up to me saying “It was amazing how you handled that. How did you do it?”
Sure enough, within minutes, one of the delegates had started saying “I’ll tell you what the problem is here…”
The defensive habit within me perceived this;
“She thinks you do not know what you are doing, or that your stuff does not apply here.”
Sometimes attacks are quite deliberate. I referred in a previous post to the exchange between Francis Maude and Mark Serwotka on Newsnight recently. At the stage where Mark accuses Francis of lying, that is a deliberate attack. At the stage where Francis challenges Mark with the question “If you actually turned up then you might learn something of benefit for your members” (or similar) then that also was a clear attack only thinly veiled under a thin veneer of sarcasm.
When we allow ourselves to become defensive then we seek to preserve ourselves.
Very often we do this by rebutting what has been said. We very quickly get into a futile battle of debating ping pong. Alternatively we puff ourselves up in order to belittle what the other person is saying. We make excuses.
It is at these very moments that we join with the aggressor and unwittingly commit, together with them, to “have it out”, to play the conflict driven games that we see all the time. And think about that for a moment. We surrender our opportunity to shape and control the debate and agree to play by their ruleset. We say…
“Okay. If you want it that way, you can have it that way…”
Why would we do that? Why would we allow them to set the conflict agenda? And what might we do instead to influence the shape of this debate in ways that beat the conventional conflict influences?
That is where the final manifesto point, “Be curious” comes into play so powerfully!