Good to be back here. The last couple of weeks have been particularly busy given the fact that I’ve accepted an exciting career opportunity, this involved among many other things ‘moving’ from the city of the Netas to the one of the Nawabs .. better known as the holy biryani barrack by rest of the country. You guessed it right .. I’m in Hyderabad. It isn’t my first stint in this beautiful city .. more on it, later.
I’ve been mulling over the subject of “conflict” for a while now; it is one fascinating facet of human existence. Don’t you agree? We often hear this term in our day to day lives and almost all the time, we associate negative sentiment to it. It is disliked by all and yet a part of everyone’s life, irrespective of what you do or dream of achieving as long as it involves resources ( people, things, thoughts .. or just about anything else) in a sum total of 2 or more – the possibility of conflict is real. Let me say this: conflict is inescapable, no matter what you do, you will have to deal with it in some form, shape or manner. So, it is only wise to perhaps invest time and energy in understanding it better.
Right off the bat search on the web or a dive into the dictionary will give you the below.
noun: conflict; plural noun: conflicts
- a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.”the eternal conflict between the sexes”
1 1.dispute, quarrel, squabble, disagreement, a difference of opinion, dissension; More
Disagreement, yes that, is conflict at an atomic level. But wait, should all disagreements be called conflicts? If you go by the ‘definition’ perhaps yes.. I recommend, you wait to hear a little example that I’m gonna share with you and then decide for yourself. Let’s say, there are two friends; Lav and Kush, Lav believes that S. P. Balasubrahmanyam is the greatest singer to have walked on the face of this earth but Kush holds the highest honour for Kishore Kumar, in his views there hasn’t been .. there isn’t and there will never be another artist who could infuse life into the lyrics. He goes on to say that Late Kishore Kumar’s vocal codes were the finest set of harmonium that a human was ever born with. Obviously, Lav and Kush do not agree with each other – will this difference of opinion qualify to be called a conflict, though?
Let’s give this little snippet some plot.
Plot #1 – Lav & Kush, meeting each other over Irish coffee at Starbucks in Inorbit Mall, Hyd, after 10 yrs and as a conversation starter pick up on the song another visitor at the coffee house is humming while he awaits his significant other to arrive from Gurgaon.
Plot #2 – Lav & Kush are roommates and have decided to go for a musical show on a Sunday evening between 7 and 9 PM, debating which of the two shows (Kishore Kumar or S. P. Balasubrahmanyam) should they elect for the evening.
Plot #3 – Between Lav and Kush they can only afford one ticket to one of the two shows and therefore they have decided to debate who deserves to go; because there can only be one winner, the other one gets to choose which show is to be booked.
I’ve on purpose picked up these simple yet believable plots to make my point, my belief is that if I manage to bring clarity on the concept of conflict you then on your own will be able to apply the learnings on to other complex situations, to make the right judgment. All the three plots are different kinds of disagreements – not all are conflicts, though. Let’s understand why.
Plot #1 is a casual .. happy disagreement between two friends who use the singers as a prop and are trying to break the ice between themselves so even when they disagree they are actually silently working toward the compatible goal of sliding into a comfortable harmless conversation over coffee. They are friends .. so even if the dialogue were to be pointless, they are cool about it.
Plot #2 – Is a tad different, both the parties desire for different things to be done at the ‘same’ time .. irrespective of the choice one of the two will lose there because resources are scarce. They just have 2 hours, good enough for just one show.
Plot #3 – Is rather interesting, not only they have an incompatible goal but are also strapped for resources, can afford just one ticket and there is also interference, in the sense the one who doesn’t go gets to choose which show is to be booked – this case, my friends, is a classic case of conflict.
So, an apt definition of conflict to my mind is disagreement stemming from incompatible goals, under circumstances that bear scarcity of resources and also possible interference in one’s life by the pointers on which the disagreement is founded, initially.
All of us have been there; we have been the reason for it, we have been a victim of it and some of us have also been involved in resolving conflicts. As leaders, we are expected to resolve quite a few as more than one opinion on a matter could potentially cause what is called conflict in a workplace. Knowledge is the currency of the 21st century, most of us, solve problems with ideas which spring from thoughts applied on the heap of the impression that we collect and carry from our past experiences, academic learnings and the imagination that we apply, using any of it. That being the case it is only natural that a room will have more than one view on a matter, as a matter of a fact it is a good thing to have ideas compete but more often than not, the fine line gets overstepped and instead of ideas, facts and arguments … real people get down to the arena – making it personal; they may not always have frowns or rolled up sleeve but they do get into a locking position virtually to advance what they consider to be the best.
Calling for truce becomes more than essential in scenarios like that. People who come in to resolve conflict are able to do it easily if they happen to control more stakes than those in the disagreement. They come and pronounce what should be done – while the task moves; sometimes the conflict remains!!
Unresolved conflicts have myriad negative effects on the organization, as a whole, including lowered productivity, a decrease in collaboration, and stifled creativity – not a desirable thing to have, on any account. One must find these conflicts and essentially work towards resolving them. In his 30 years of research in this field, Professor Bernie Mayer describes the seven paradoxes of conflict in his famous book – “Getting to the heart of conflict”. Those are :
- Competition and Cooperation
- Optimism and Realism
- Avoidance and Engagement
- Principle and Compromise
- Emotion and Logic
- Neutrality and Advocacy
- Community and Autonomy
Think of any conflict in the word and you’d find that they relate to one of these, invariably.
We’ve sufficiently described what conflict is; let’s now look at ways to resolve them or let’s say manage them in a manner that is effective while being productive, quick and meaningful; all at the same time. Good conflict resolution leads to high employee retention, increased productivity, and a lower stress level for everyone involved – it is a smart investment to make.
Not sure, if I’m someone from whom you should hear this – being honest, I’m learning it just as much as you as I progress in my life meddling and moving from one conflict to the other. I’m making conscious effort to understand it a little better for I have no doubts in my mind that without effective conflict resolution abilities; one can’t possibly get to the top and I wanna be there. I’ve reflected a great deal upon my own experiences on the topic, cases where I excelled and also those where I miserably failed and trust me, you can’t learn without failing. With time I’ve improved but there is still a long way for me to go but I’m determined to get this within my grasp.
I often draw before beginning to write on a subject; it gives me clarity – the one that I sketched today is for you to see. I was trying to devise a little tool kit for conflict resolution.
Disclaimer: I’m on expert on this.
*Spelling errors have to be ignored
From this diagram, below items have emerged; let’s go over them one by one.
- Welcome Conflicts
- Listen with your heart not just ears.
- Do not ASSUME
- Communicate with clarity
- Compromise is beautiful.
- Forget & Forgive.
Welcome Conflict – It’ll be unreal for a leader to expect conflict-free business; a talented, passionate, heterogeneous mix of people will have issues – it is a no-brainer. Strong personalities do not cross each other without leaving an imprint of their encounter, some are more indelible than the others, though. A thinking group natures independent research, values varied opinions and likes to weight options before calling the shot – that in itself create a ground firmly fertile for conflicts. It is not a bad thing to have a couple of people disagree on a couple of issues as long as they are putting their best foot forward towards solving what is at hand. When you talk to solve .. it is ok for you to speak a few extra words.
Listen with your heart not just ears – Not hearing a particular view in detail is doing deliberate injustice to the cause. You gotta listen to both the parties for as long as they would like to speak unless you are invested in only moving forward without comprehensively bringing closure. It is needed that you give the matter the time it demands even if it deserves a little less then its demand, to get to the bottom of the issue. Remember unresolved issues often surfaces again harder than the previous time.
Do not ASSUME: Assumption is an absolute worse thing to carry when you are headed to resolve a conflict. Your bias will come in the way of you assessing the situation thoughtfully, remember when you chair a discussion, you have to shed your own beliefs and be guided by the facts as they are presented. One can borrow from morality, fundamentals of natural justice etc. But then it must be applied dispassionately and proportionately to both sets of arguments, data, viewpoints and even interests.
Communicate with clarity: Communication is essentially about the other person, those who you address must understand each word spoken or written just as well as the person leading the conversation. You must leave nothing unsaid, you gotta spell it out completely and in a manner which is most honest and dispassionate. Candour is a great value to embrace in a situation like this.
Compromise is beautiful: Mahatma Gandhi used to propagate the beauty of compromise; he would often suggest that by leaving the comforts of extremists position, people with open mind, when coming to a neutral ground more than a lot, gets accomplished and in time. It is ok, to let go of a few things .. remember it is an art of the possible and not of the perfect.
Forget & Forgive: Moving on is important. If you carry the scars of the past to the present you will not be able to insulate yourself from the pain it gave you when you had to suffer it for the first time. It is imp to let the ghost of the past rest in their peaceful graves .. deal with a present as though you were dealing with it for the first time no less no more.
This is not a perfect solution but certainly a good workaround; think about it and while you’re at it .. have a great Sunday. Catch you in the next one…