By Catherine Bell & Russ Hudson
Got some conflict?
In organizations, by far the most common request for help we receive is, Can you help us with communications and how to resolve our disagreements without hurt and anger?
There are three main elements people bring to conflicts to solve workplace disagreements. These elements are positive outlook, emotional realness, and rational competency.
It’s important to note that we employ these approaches in the early stages of a disagreement—prior to getting into an all-out conflict. We use them as a kind of “love offering” because we really believe they will avoid the hurt, anger, and judgement that accompany the second stage of a conflict. And we are of course at least partially correct—one third correct, to be precise! It really takes all three of these modalities to successfully navigate a conflict. But let’s look at the three approaches or styles, and perhaps we will notice our own preferred method.
Positive Outlook: In any real disagreement or significant problem, people seek reassurance of connection and goodwill, and some of us are particularly gifted in providing this. Without some kind of positive framework, some holding of the shared goals and good intentions that are there, it’s difficult to establish trust and a willingness to let go of positions. So establishing a sense of shared intention, mutual appreciation, and an atmosphere of goodwill is vital to moving through the tense conversations that inevitably occur in work settings.
That being said, those of us who excel in this area, when less aware, tend to insist that this is the only way to solve the problems. This can lead to a suppression of needed conversations and an unwillingness to really grapple with the true dimensions of the problem. Everyone assumes a “happy face,” while an undercurrent of unease remains. This undermines confidence in the leadership, and people become less willing to bring real problems, knowing they will be dismissed or not addressed realistically. Yet the fact remains that without this ingredient, conflicts tend to remain stuck.
If this is our preferred approach to problems, we can relax in the knowledge that we will naturally bring this to them. But we will also be aware of opportunities to welcome and engage the two other modalities.
Emotional Realness: In any real disagreement or significant problem, people want to know that authentic expression is welcome and available. They want to know that they can express their true thoughts and feelings, and that others will also do so. This doesn’t necessarily mean talking about our feelings, but it does mean expressing our genuine hopes, concerns, and issues with affect and honesty. People gifted at this orientation tend to “put their cards on the table” and invite others to do so through their genuineness. They may be saying nothing about their feelings, but their body language, tone of voice, open facial expressions, and use of language give others in the space clear signals about what they are experiencing.
When individuals who excel in this area are less awake, they tend to insist on this modality as the only real way to move through conflicts and may actually escalate these conflicts by doing so. For example, such individuals may seek to provoke more authentic emotional responses from others by challenging them or confronting them in various ways. Such methods do produce more emotional responses in others, but generally of the second category of conflict: hurt and judgement! People with this preference can become addicted to emotional venting in the workplace. This may temporarily create emotional satisfaction, although it also creates new resentments and corrodes relationships in the long run.
If this is our preferred approach to problems, we can relax in the knowledge we will naturally bring authentic expression. But we will also be aware of opportunities to welcome and engage the two other modalities.
Rational Competency: In any real disagreement or significant problem, people need to look at the components of the problem, to employ clear understanding of the dynamics at work, and to seek new behavior to circumvent further problems. We need to be able to “get some distance” from what we are dealing with, to look dispassionately at our own reactions, and to take logical steps toward the goals we want to achieve with the team. Some people are naturally gifted at bringing this orientation, and when more awake, help a team come to clarity, precision, and non-reactivity in addressing challenges. They are excellent at using their mind to arrive at solutions and are able to maintain professionalism even when discussions become heated.
When such individuals are less awake, they only want to engage in this modality, dismissing other approaches as immature, unprofessional, and naïve. They may feel resentful about needing to be the only one who will rationally focus on solving the problems while others are “indulging” their emotions in various ways. Others on the team can feel judged and dismissed when this happens, leading to further deterioration of the team.
If this is our preferred approach to problems, we can relax in the knowledge we will naturally bring rationalism, competency, and intellectual precision. But we will also be aware of opportunities to welcome and engage positivity and emotional authenticity.
Ultimately, all three of these approaches are needed. Ideally, a team has members who can shift freely from one modality to another as necessary. As individuals, we can take the role of awakened leaders simply by setting this tone ourselves. For this to happen, we need to develop in ourselves the capacity to offer and to receive the two other modalities that are less natural for us. And this is far less difficult than our egoic patterns generally fear.
Which of these approaches do you tend to use the most? Which is the hardest for you? What can you do today to experiment with the other approaches?
Begin to consider what the positive approach is to a disagreement, what’s real in the situation, and what the competent steps are that you need to take to resolve the issue. In addition, it’s always good to consider and communicate what you are feeling, thinking, and your requested action from the place of “I” versus “you.” Not very many people like being told what to do.
RUSS HUDSON is a world famous, innovative thought-leader who has sold millions of books on the Enneagram, a map of personality and personal development. He has co-authored several best-selling books including The Wisdom of the Enneagram and Personality Types as well as a scientifically-validated test instrument, the Riso-Hudson Type Indicator (RHETI). He is President of Enneagram Personality Types, Inc. and co-Founder of The Enneagram Institute, and has been teaching professional trainings on these topics since 1991. He is also a Founding Director and former Vice-President of the International Enneagram Association—a global organization advancing knowledge of the subject. He holds a degree in East Asian Studies from Columbia University in New York, from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He is a collaborator on The Awakened Company.
Catherine Bell is the founder and author of the revolutionary new business book The Awakened Company. Her book was a best seller in Calgary one week after its release and has won Nautilus Award as a best business book of 2015. She founded BluEra, an executive search and team transformation company that was on the Profit 500 list two years in a row and is a best workplace. She has worked around the globe from the UK to Cuba. Her company was recently purchased by the largest executive search firm in the world DHR.
She has an MBA from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, a Sociology degree from Western University, is Certified in the Enneagram, is a Yoga Instructor, and was formerly on the Board of the Distress Centre. Catherine has been published in Fortune, the Huffington Post, and Conscious Company Magazine to name a few.