When one thinks about it most of our behavior is based around fear of conflict and how we can avoid it.
So we have created and listened to stories that tell us:
- Don’t be a snitch
- Go with the flow
- You are too sensitive
- Don’t make waves
- Let sleeping dogs lie
- Don’t rock the boat
- Don’t upset the applecart
- Sticks and stones….
- Suck it up buttercup
- Have thick skin
- Don’t be a snowflake
- Get over it!
Understandable, too. I mean, we still have not worked out a safe way that we can tackle issues with others in the workplace, for example, without having some drama and possible conflict emerging from what seemed to be just a spat.
Organization psychologists like Adam grant will talk about venting as some solution to our pent-up frustration because of our fear and avoiding conflict. However, to me, this is just dressing up good old-fashioned gossip and backstabbing into a thing called confiding in a friend and venting. I have a better solution for this behavior.
Amy Edmondson talks about other behavioral outcomes derived from our fear of conflict, such as setting the stage, inviting participation and responding productively, and admitting mistakes. Shared expectations and meaning, considering inclusivity, and diversity, being curious and continuous learning. All are tackling the outcomes of our fear of conflict.
Kim Scott focuses on radical candor, hoping people will appreciate our openness and creating a mindset for more transparency by using staged questions, encouraging us to embrace discomfort, listen with intent but don’t respond, and reward and encourage feedback. Once again tackling the outcomes of our fear of conflict but not dealing with the root cause of this fear.
So what is it that causes our fear of conflict? Self-preservation, I expect.
And the fact that when someone misbehaves, we only know one of two ways to deal with it;
- Aggressively – React in some sarcastic manner, i.e. reward bad behavior for bad behavior,
- Submissively – Be more passive and try to ignore their misconduct but usually end up gossiping (venting) to a team mate.
It seems to me that everyone has forgotten that there is a third way, a medium or moderate way, and that is Objectively, i.e. To object to such misbehavior direct and as it happens. Then we do something clever to moderate our objection and use three-phase levels, so we end up with:
- Caution is a Spat – Requires an acknowledgment from the offender
- Objection is a Dispute – Requires a simple apology from the offender
- Stop is a Conflict – Requires an acceptable apology from the offender
How do we know it is the objective view, I hear you ask? Well, we use an independent network to help us decide on one’s objectivity, if we get to the third phase of Stopping at a conflict. It may not be perfectly objective but I would say a more objective view than that of the offender or the offended, in this case. It is also a way of cleaning up a mess by shining the light on it, “sunshine is the best disinfectant”.
Once agreed upon, we now have a procedure for tackling our fear of conflict head-on, with no need to avoid it. Knowing our agreement and network protects us and instantly tackles all the outcomes of our fear of conflict that Amy, Kim, and Adam have been creating patches for.