Dealing with conflict during change

When dealing with colleagues or anyone else who may be coming from a different perspective to us, there is always potential for conflict. Clashes of personality, styles, and expectations can lead to anything from innocent misunderstandings to inappropriate behaviour and open hostility.

In a context of organisational change, with staff having to adopt a new working style or job-role and possibly fearing the ‘sack’, general ill-feeling can more easily turn into full-blown, department-wide conflict.

Yet in many situations, this scenario could have been avoided if individual members of staff had invested a bit of time in building good relationships with each other as a kind of ‘pre-emptive strategy’.

As a starting point, remember that good effective communication doesn’t just mean ‘getting your point across’! If you want someone to consider your point of view, try taking what we call ‘the third position’. To enable you to do this, take it one step at a time: The first position: YOU – your own view. People often make the mistake of getting locked into this when under pressure or trying to influence. The second position: THE OTHER PERSON – genuinely try to put yourself in their position. The third position: THE OVERVIEW – be a fly on the wall, objective and unemotional.

Only when you get to the third position, without the bias you began with, will you be able to agree a way forward and avoid a potential conflict. As an added bonus, people should be more ready to listen to you next time round, given that you respected their point of view.

Building rapport with others is like joining in their version of the world. It creates openness and makes it easier for us to communicate with them and for them to communicate with us.

As body language is such an important part of communication, a very effective technique in building rapport is ‘mirroring’. If you don’t seem to be ‘clicking’ with somebody, try matching their body position: posture, orientation, weight distribution; their speech: words and language style, tone and tempo; and their gestures: expansive arm gestures or hands in pockets. You’ll know you’re on the right track with someone when they start to follow you!

This takes practice of course and you don’t want to make it too obvious – or people may take offence at you mimicking them! Done in a genuine way, you can’t help but empathise with the person you are trying so hard to connect with.

Also consider broadening the picture. In today’s multi-tasking society, each of us juggles a multitude of roles (parent, child, co-worker, partner, part-time student, …) that all contribute to making us who we are. Yet a lot of people we encounter along our day only ever get to know us in one, maybe two of those roles. That makes it a lot easier to pigeon-hole someone and make assumptions about them, rendering true communication difficult.

So make a conscious effort to share more facets of yourself with people at work, and show an interest in their ‘life outside work’. It’s no surprise successful companies invest a lot of energy and effort in organising social events for their staff – it pays off in better cohesion back at work and less conflict!