We can stop conflict before it starts
Conflict resolution is very difficult. Conflict prevention is much easier. To prevent conflict we need to manage our selves (our reactions, our thinking, our choices and our actions), and communicate effectively with others when we see potential trouble brewing, and when things go wrong.
This is challenging, but it isn’t nearly as difficult as resolving conflict. To resolve conflict, we have to do all of the above – plus – we have to deal with the reactions, thoughts, feelings, choices and actions of others (often several others). This adds layers of complexity, and explains why even trained mediators have difficulty helping people find their way through conflict.
Consider the concrete benefits
Time saving. In most situations predicting and pre-empting conflict is an internal process (simply thinking about how to respond or approach when there is a potential problem) which can literally take only seconds. On the other hand, un-prevented conflict can take hours, days, even months to resolve.
Enhanced productivity. Time lost to conflict is time lost to focus, performance and productivity.
Stress reduction. When conflict is reduced stress is reduced. When stress is reduced so are stress-related errors, accidents, absenteeism and illness.
I conduct workshops specifically on the topic of conflict prevention, and I incorporate this topic in all my leadership, team building, customer service and sales training as well. Without exploring the dynamics of conflict, and learning how it can be prevented, we sharply limit our ability to act on other training we receive. For example, you may have received training in coaching and delegation – but unless you know how to keep your self from reacting negatively to a team member’s repeated error, you may allow that person to trigger annoyance, irritation or impatience in you – which may then trigger defense or counter-attack or passive resistance in the team member – and, suddenly, the training you received in coaching counts for nothing.
An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure
I’m fond of saying, “Instead of crying over spilled milk, let’s prevent the milk spill.” This probably sounds simplistic or overly optimistic (even ‘Pollyanish,’ to cite the heroine who inspires our current education campaign), but it’s not. Again and again a new client, or a workshop participant, will describe a situation where they feel very strongly that the customer is to blame. Within minutes of breaking the problem down, and examining the flaws that enable the problem to occur (and usually recur, again and again), they are stunned to discover that the customer isn’t to blame at all – that it is ‘their’ system that’s broken; that it’s ‘their’ system that enables the customer to take ‘unfair’ advantage (usually with no ill intention) in some way.
Then they also discover, in just a few minutes of brainstorming, that there are concrete, practical actions they can take – immediately in most cases – to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again. This is a huge – literally life-changing – ‘aha’ moment. It reveals the truth that we are most often the authors of our own destiny – and that taking responsibility for our situations sets us free – free to attack and actually solve the problem, while protecting the other person and the relationship.
The costs of conflict, to people and organizations, can be enormous – in terms of lost time, energy and focus. By learning ways to stop conflict before it starts, participants can contribute to building a healthier, more successful workplace – and a healthier personal life. That is our goal, and I would welcome an opportunity to speak to you about a program for your organization.