Vision and approach

What is a conflict?

Where people collaborate, differences often lead to problems that need to be ‘solved’. This resuls in irritation, frustrations, anger or verbal and non-verbal aggression. The differences however, are not the problem. The way we deal with those differences is. 

Sometimes you are not even aware there is a conflict. There are clear signals, but the conflict itself is invisible and hard to openly address. The visible conflicts are obvious: fights, emotions, trouble. 

Conflicts are often a cocktail of different elements. There is more than meets the eye. For instance: emotional reactions to organizational change, agitation due to unclear procedures or expectations, failing leadership, differences in work style, lack of space or safety to speak up or address difficult topics. 

Group dynamics reinforce the escalation. The atmosphere becomes toxic, people drop out, distrust grow, productvity suffers because people don’t collaborate anymore. 

“Conflict is often a fearful interpretation of difference, diversity, and opposition, which ignores the essential role of polarity in creating unity, balance, and symbiosis.” 

(Ken Cloke)

How come we get stuck in conflict? 

What doesn’t work…

With the best intentions we do all sorts of things in conflict situations that do not work: 

  • Sweep the differences under the rug 
  • Focus on consensus and harmony: all noses point in the same direction 
  • Not address disturbing behavior 
  • Ventilate and look for support 
  • Keep silent for the sake of peace 
  • Ignore tensions and swipe difficult topics off the table
  • Solve incidents as quickly as possible and move on
  • Correct or punish ‘difficult’ collaborators or remove them from the team 
  • Mediate between two conflicted collaborators and not involve the rest of the team 

Frankly speaking, we learn nowhere how to constructively deal with conflict

Myths and misunderstanding

A lot of misunderstanding get in the way of directly addressing conlict.

  • You think there are winners and losers, so you fight or you run away
  • You think conflicts will spontaneously blow over and you are not aware that conflicts escalate automatically
  • You are scared of conflict and think they disturb collaboration; you want them out of the way as soon as possible
  • You look for the truth, perpetrators and wrongdoers, and because you want straightforward and quick solutions, you end up in simplistic reasoning
  • You mainly look at individuals, disputes between collaborators and you neglect the group dynamics that feed the conflict and drag along individuals

The good news is that you can learn how to deal with collaborative conflict in a constructive way!

Build a productive working climate

Invest – on a daily basis – in an open climate in your team, department or organization.

The benefits are:

  • People dare to speak up, so critical information is shared
  • Honest feedback prevents unnecessary escalation of frustrations
  • Strong relationships support lively discussions about important themes
  • In a safe space critical voices foster creativity and innovation 
  • Differences are no longer a ‘problem’ to be solved, but an asset
  • There is energy for the work that needs to be done

Conflict literacy – a competitive advantage!

What are the benefits of a productive working climate?

  • Recognition and acknowledgement of early warning signs
  • Address disagreements before they escalate
  • Identify domains of tension and energy leaks
  • Solve the right problems in the right place
  • Enable sustainable change and growth

Individual and collective conflict skills offer you a competitive advantage!

“We must learn to navigate conflict and tension with dignitiy and humility in this rapidly-changing world, so that we can survive and thrive as a species.”

(Jason Digges)

How to deal with conflict?

The building blocks of conflict resolution

To inject oxygen in conflicts, to bring movement in situations that seem stuck and to achieve sustainable change, you need to move through several phases: the building bloks of conflict resulution.

1. Make the undercurrent visible: visualize the conflict

In a first phase we build trust and the skills to engage in courageous conversations. All parties present their perspective on the situation and together they create a complex and shared image of the conflict: the puzzle of the conflict.

In doing so, people discover that it’s not about blaming others, looking for ‘the’ cause, for quick solutions or for ‘the’ truth. Conflicts are multi-layered.

Sometimes collaborators think they have nothing to do with the conflict. Gradually they discover that every person has contributed, in his or her own way, to the conflict dynamics that have emerged. Every person can therefore make a difference and contribute to change the situation.

Curiosity and exploration are at the heart of this phase. Where did the frictions and frustrations originate? What are the different perspectives? How did we deal with the tensions? What is it really about?

2. Engage in courageous conversations: go to the heart of the conflict

The critical step in the process of conflict resolution is to go towards the conflict: ‘bite the bullet’ together.  

This goes against our natural tendency to look for quick solutions, stress common ground, and accentuate the  positive. When it gets tense, we move back. We are afraid to ‘open pandora’s box’.

Moving away from a conflict does not help. In order to change things, you need to look the conflict in the eye, put the differences on the table and have a courageous, respectful conversation.

This step requires a delicate balance between safety and challenge. How can we – together – create a safe space?

An important condition is the readiness of openly talk and – especially – to listen to each other. The ability to communicate problems, blocks in collaboration and needs in a constructive way, is of critical importance.

What is relevant is brought to the table: difficulties, sources of stress, misunderstandings, unspoken expectations, noise in the communication, differences in vision, old pain, swallowed criticism, desires, lack of recognition.

It is not so much about ‘solving’ a conflict, but about creating space for dialogue about difficult topics. Courageous conversations!

3. Learn to have a constructive fight: an integral approach

In the course of the process of conflict resolution, you discover missed opportunities in the past. Gradually it becomes clear what you as an individual, team and organization can learn from this difficult situation en what, accordingly, you need to develop to ensure that future conflicts will be dealt with in a different way.

In other words: you to learn to have a constructive fight!

We work on different tracks to change collaboration in a sustainable way and to foster conflict literacy:

  • Task and content: e.g. different visions; differing interests
  • Organization of the work: e.g. unclear roles; lack of procedures for decision-making
  • Interactions and group dynamics: e.g. meeting behaviour; reactions to change; group culture; learning to deal with disagreement and critical without fighting
  • Individual conflict literacy: e.g. dealing with differences; personal stress reactions and coping mechanisms
  • External factors: e.g. organizational culture; relationships with stakeholders; impact of change.

Increase the resilience in indivuals, your team or department.

Fully use the potential of collaboration, based on conflict resolution skills that prevent escalating tensions and destructive conflict.

there are two options

On request, I can facilitate a conflict resolution process in your organization.

Or you can learn how to do it yourself! 

  • How to address conflicts in a team, department or in the organization?
  • How to facilitate collective courageous conversations?
  • What do I need to develop in my personal way of dealing with conflict to be able to help others?

Would you like to know more about how I work? Click below for further information or contact me for a free introductory meeting.