“Think of a conflict that’s on your mind right now. It can be anything but let me warn you, we’ll probably talk about the conflict in this workshop, and this isn’t group therapy. Maybe don’t choose the biggest baddest thing you have on your mind…”
I often start my workshops with a question like this, something to peak everyone’s interest and give their brains something relevant to chew on as we build our knowledge and skills around managing conflict. In other workshops I ask people to reflect on how conflict affects them and share their responses before we launch into the rest of the learning. In both of these cases, I find common threads that tend to reaffirm my commitment to continuing in this line of work.
First, and not surprisingly, conflict stresses people out! Occasionally there is a person who feels like conflict can lead to creative opportunities. More often, however, people express a common experience of stress, anxiety, self-doubt, and fear around conflict. Second many workshop attendees have a great deal of internal conflict, an inner tension that they feel unable to reconcile. Often times, it seems like people feel torn and unable to decide not just what to say in situations, but whether or not to even say anything at all. The accommodating participants are often acutely aware when they feel taken advantage of while the more directive want to be able to speak their minds without being seen as bullies. In both cases, people have clear hopes for things that they want to be different but carry guilt or insecurity about the validity or viability of those hopes.
As we venture into discussion the different habits we have around conflict, the reasons for these shared experiences gets clearer, albeit not always easier to manage. As I’ve written about before, we experience conflict not just around substantive issues, but also over whether and how to address the substantive issues themselves. If teams don’t agree that it’s best to talk through things, or have agreements on how to do so safely, it’s no surprise that my workshop participants feel so torn about how to address problems when they arise. Wouldn’t it be nice to at least get on the same page on the process so we could stop feeling so stressed before we ever get into the substance of a problem itself? If these experiences sound familiar, check out my suite of training opportunities and consider booking one for your whole team.
Thanks to all from the teachers I met at the Colorado Congress of Foreign Language Teachers annual conference to the entrepreneurs who attended to the March 10 lunch and learn at Galvanize, Fort Collins. You inspire me!