Get Future-Ready With Finito: Keeping Your Cool in Conflict

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little bit jittery about the future. Those who would like to be work-ready need to take a lot into consideration; robotic technology, urbanisation and bio-tech are developing factors all set to change the way we work, and the skills we need to do a good job – and it’s all a bit difficult to predict.

We don’t want to be all doom-y about it, though. For all the click-bait screaming that AI is coming for our jobs and there’s nothing we can do about it, there are plenty of level-headed experts identifying the skills we’re most likely to need in the future. In this series, we’re going to examine some of those skills, discover the ways you can start developing them, and hopefully get everyone one step closer to being future-ready. 

Soft Skill #1 – Conflict Management

When it comes to problems in the workplace, it’s not the robots we should be wary of, it’s our very human colleagues. The modern office is a complex environment – crammed with employees of various generations, cultures, sexualities, political leanings and technological abilities. This level of diversity is crucial for businesses to thrive in a world defined by globalisation, but the potential for conflict increases when you throw a variety pack of working styles and communication preferences into one office. 

According to CIPD, just under half of UK employees reported experiencing interpersonal conflict at work. In 2018, there were 76,418 workplace discrimination charges in the US, and American employees were found to spend around 3 hours of every week involved in some sort of conflict. That’s a full day of productivity lost to passive aggressive post-it notes every month.

The thing is, conflict has always been ‘a normal and essential part of the human condition’ – and some people think a little bit of friction is necessary to spark true creativity. That’s why diversity is so important for today’s company. If everyone just goes along with the status quo without ever questioning it, you end up stagnating. So, we don’t really want to do away with conflict entirely, we just need to learn how to use it in the right way, and to be successful at conflict management, you really need to master two very important skills. 

First, you need to be able to quickly shake off stress, even when you’re right in the middle of the stressful situation. When we’re overwhelmed by stress, most of us respond in one of three ways:

1) An angry, or agitated response. You get riled up and your emotions begin to rise to the surface.

2) Withdrawal and depression. You shut down and show very little emotion.

3) Freezing behaviour. A mixture of the previous two responses – you can’t do anything except look paralysed, but under the mask, you’re going nuts.

None of these responses are very helpful in a workplace conflict, where you need to accurately read nonverbal communication, hear what someone is actually saying, be aware of your own feelings and needs, and communicate those needs clearly. 

That brings us to the second skill you need for clever conflict management: emotional awareness. That means understanding yourself and others around you – because if you can’t get your head around why you’re feeling the way you are, you’re unlikely to be able to explain it to somebody else.

Three Golden Rules:

1. Listen. The most valuable thing you can do in any conflict is to listen to what the other person is saying. You don’t have to make listening noises, or give them non-verbal cues that you’re listening to them, like nodding, or repeating their points back at them. All you have to do pay attention – once you get an idea of what the other person is feeling, as well as what they’re saying, you’ll be in a much better position to resolve the conflict and steer it in a more positive direction.

2. The fastest way to escalate a conflict is to talk over the other person before they’ve finished their point – when it’s your turn to speak, you’ll want them to shut up and listen, won’t you? Even if you completely disagree with the point they’re making, let them finish, show a little respect and they’re much more likely to return the favour. Remember – it’s not about winning the argument, it’s about maintaining the relationship. You work with this person. Be careful.

3. It’s easy to launch into conflict with the desire to punish the other party. It’s much more difficult (and worthwhile) to approach a disagreement with the intention of forgiving. You won’t ever resolve an issue by giving someone a verbal thrashing, as satisfying as it might seem. That said, it’s difficult, especially in a world increasingly divided by opinions – so if you can’t find a place to agree, recognise that it takes two to keep an argument going, and choose to disengage.

For more advice on how to get work-ready, contact us to find out how The Employability Specialists can help you take your career to the next level.