Join Craig Runde for an in-depth discussion in this video Uncovering conflict attitudes, part of Improving Your Conflict Competence.
- Have you ever noticed how our attitudes about something affect the way we approach it? This is certainly the case with conflict. As I've talked with people from around the world about conflict, I've noticed some common attitudes about it that influence the way people deal with conflict. In this video, we'll use a series of questions to help you explore your attitudes about conflict and to look at how to compare those with other people. Then we'll see how research distinguishes positive and negative types of conflict.
We'll also discuss how different attitudes affect how we approach conflict. First, let's start by asking a series of questions about conflict that can help clarify your attitudes toward it and compare them to others. I've included this list of questions in the exercise files so you can answer them for yourself. The first question I always ask is, "Do you think conflict in inevitable in your workplace?" What do you think? If you're like most people, your answer will be yes.
This is probably because of your own experience. If you answer the question yes, then it is no longer a matter of whether you will experience conflict, but rather what will you get out of it? The next question is, "When you think of workplace conflict, "what words come to mind that describe it?" Take a moment to think of some words. If you're like most people, you may have thought of words like frustrating, stressful, or anger. How would you characterize most of the words that came to your mind? When I ask this question to groups, they almost always say that most of the words they share are negative.
Have you ever experienced a positive outcome from a conflict? What happened that made that particular conflict turn out positive? Most people say they have experienced a positive outcome from conflict sometime in their life. Usually they were able to talk things through with the other person and come up with a solution that worked for both of them. Sometimes the relationship with the other person was actually improved. How do you generally deal with conflict? Most people say they try to avoid it.
This isn't unusual given that they see conflict as something negative. When asked if avoiding conflict causes it to go away, most people say it doesn't. A smaller percentage of people say they respond aggressively to conflict. These two groups basically describe our flight or fight instincts. We either stay away from a threat or respond forcefully to it. Neither approach works particularly well in workplace settings. Now, let's take a look at how research distinguishes types of conflict.
One type is called Relationship Conflict and usually involves people getting angry with one another and blaming each other for the problem. The result of this type of conflict is almost always negative. When people use negative words to describe conflict, they are in effect referring to relationship conflict. It is the kind of outcome that occurs when people avoid conflict or where they are overly aggressive. The second type of conflict called Task Conflict involves people working together to solve the issues created by their differences.
The focus is on solving the problem rather than blaming the other person. Conflict-competent people are able to gain the benefits of this type of conflict more often. Now let's explore how attitudes affect the way we respond to conflict and the results we get. When people say conflict as something negative or a threat to their interest, they can become upset or anxious. This can lead to a flight or fight response where people either pull back from the others or become aggressive.
Both of these approaches often lead to relationship conflict which research shows has poor outcome. Your first step in overcoming these tendencies is becoming aware of our attitudes toward conflict. If we acknowledge that conflict is inevitable, we can begin to change our attitudes towards it. To see it as a collaborative problem solving process. Rather than a survival exercise. When we change our attitudes it makes it easier for us to deal with conflict more comfortably and confidently.