Conflicts — 08 May 2005
How to resolve conflicts at home and at work.

Conflict with another person is an uncomfortable experience for most people. It is generated by a divergence of needs, ideas, desires or opinions. It is often based on the assumption that only one way is the right one and must prevail. The reality is, that though each position seems to be the ‘right one’ for that individual, a compromise or a uniquely different option may turn out to be the best solution for both.
Learning to deal with conflicts effectively is a key at work, at home, and in all relationships.

The setting for resolving disputes is actually quite simple. It requires:
Two rational people who are willing to listen and appreciate each other’s perspective and a desire for a resolution. Once people are in this frame of mind, conflicts may even turn out to be a creative and interesting process.

Most conflicts occur at home or at work. Some people end up feuding with neighbors, relatives or even strangers, but most frequently our work place and heart place provide the greatest opportunities for diverging needs.

There is a great difference between a conflict with a spouse as compared to one with a supervisor or supervisee. Usually at home, mates regard each other as equals and can use their loving feelings to propel themselves toward a quick resolution. At the same time, the intensity of emotions between mates and the importance of their love, may also delay easy compromise.

At work, the conflict is often not between equals, but between people who have authority differences. Since everyone at work attempts to safeguard his or her job security, vehemently arguing with the boss may be politically unwise. This puts the employee at the short end of intense bargaining.

Psychologically, companies are structured like families. The supervisor is viewed as mom or dad and the workers as the children. Children look to their parents for guidance, advice, protection and support, as do most employees do with their superiors. Children also tend to develop sibling rivalry for the attention and favor of their parents. Workers may also compete for the recognition of the manager. At home, parents do have greater power and access to resources and children may have their opinions, but must comply with parental decisions. Similarly, at work the manager may be willing to listen and discuss the problem, but ultimately he or she has the final say and the employee must accept it.

There are some employees, who like children are rebellious, continuously challenge the boundaries, complain regularly, speak of injustice and unfairness and create discomfort for their superiors. Ultimately they learn to abide by the dictated policy. Though the work structure simulates a family it lacks the love and devotion of the senior group. This may compound the employees sense of powerless and disgruntlement.

Conflicts at work put the employee at risk of losing his position and income, at home he may jeopardize his love connection. Neither feels safe and both require solid tools to avoid feeling disempowered.

First, the employee or partner must believe that she is of equal value, even if not of equal status to the boss or partner. Feeling “less than” or “better than” the other person only sabotages the chances of solving the problem logically and considerately.

Then, the mate or worker must trust the goodwill of the other person in reaching a conflict resolution for the benefit of the product and/or the connection.
Some people inappropriately resort to belittling the opponent, (openly or in their minds), in order to empower themselves, when they fear being overruled or discounted.

It is incumbent upon each party to LISTEN and APPRECIATE the other’s opinion. No conflict can ever be resolved without each party understanding the other’s position. In doing so, the point and the person are validated. Unless we feel respected and considered, we cannot react as adults. Without both parties being mature, a forced resolution may take place, but not a solidly negotiated one.

Supervisors, as good parents do, must validate their employees’ desires, ideas wishes and frustrations first, before making the final decisions. All people, young and older need to be affirmed. Once that is done, they are better able to accept the decisions of those in power.

A common error people in conflict make is that they attend to the CONTENT of each other’s position and do not deal with the MEANING behind the words. For example, an employee is resentful because a co-worker received a raise after being with the company a very short time. He talks to his supervisor emphasizing how unfair this situation is. A long discussion ensues about what is and is not fair. What the supervisor would have been wiser to do is ask the employee: “What does your co-worker’s raise mean to you”? The first answer might still be about fairness and then, if prodded, the employee may talk of his hurt feelings of not having been recognized for his accomplishments lately. This can then be remediated with appropriate kudos for the efforts and accomplishments of the employee.

People in conflict, please realize:

• Both your and the other person’s position are equally valid.
• Conflicts can be resolved well if both people are calm, respectful, willing to listen, validate each other and move from adversaries to joint problem-solvers.
• Psychologically, work situations simulate family hierarchy and thus compound the emotions. Taking it into consideration can help employees, co-workers and managers better understand each other’s needs.
• The bottom line of every conflict is not the practical resolution but the sense of validation all people seek.
• When conflicts are resolved well, both parties feel valued and the outcome can be creative and even emotionally bonding.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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