How to resolve conflict when a packet of Haribo won’t work

By Heather Campbell

Heather here.

Sorry I wasn’t in touch last week. I was fully engaged in childcare duties. I was staying with my niece and her husband who have recently added a baby daughter to their family of three. I spent much of the week entertaining a three-year old who deeply resents having a little sister taking attention away from him. It’s tough being three and a newly minted big brother.

And whew! Hats off to everyone who’s balancing working from home and the demands of young children right now. I had forgotten just how challenging this can be.

Back in my usual world this week, conflict has been a prevalent part of my work discussions too. The senior leaders I’ve been coaching seem to either be in the midst of some thorny conflict personally or are trying to help other people resolve it. 

As distracting people with ‘sticky bricks’, little packets of Haribo or visits to the local play park doesn’t resolve conflict in the workplace, here are three effective strategies leaders can use instead.

  1. If you find yourself personally involved in a disagreement, remember that you are part of the conflict. Newton’s Third Law applies here – if you find someone pushing back on you, you’re also pushing back on them. Remove the force that you’re putting in and you’ll find the conflict magically reduces too.  The thing is, though, we humans protect our ego by making ourselves ‘right’, so this does take a good level of maturity and self-control.  But, in the heat of the moment, let that little voice in your head remind you that conflict is not one-sided – you’re part of it and if you stop fighting back, the situation will shift.
  • A second way to resolve conflict also demands that we manage our natural reactions – in this case, the natural reaction to prioritise the threats and risks around us. It’s fundamental to staying safe and staying alive. But when it comes to conflict in the workplace, this makes the situation worse because we tend to focus first on the points of disagreement rather than focussing on the areas where we have a shared perspective. But this just makes the differences bigger and before we know it, we’re facing immoveable obstacles. Shift the perspective to all the areas where there is agreement and you’ll find the threat becomes much more manageable too. Of course, at the same time, it’s reducing the size of the threat that others are experiencing, making the situation far more manageable for them too. Even in situations where there appears to be little to agree on, focussing first on those limited areas works its magic. 
  • The third step that we can take to resolve conflict is to mind our language. Our words create our reality and the reality of others around us. ‘There’s no agreement in the team’, ‘we’re miles apart’, ‘we’re stuck’ – our language tends to get extreme and generalised when we are faced with conflict. That, in turn, makes the conflict grow in size, so triggering our response to an increasing threat. Change your language and you change your perception of the conflict. Be specific – who precisely is disagreeing and what specifically are they disagreeing about. Exactly what is different about your views? Where is there scope to get movement?

Bring these three points together and you can even find the conflict disappears completely. Pointless, energy-sapping, circular arguments turn into productive, solution-focussed conversations that bring results and build relationships.

Catch you next time,

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