Turn away, turn against or turn towards?

Identifying the source of conflicts

What is your definition of conflict?

Think back to your most recent conflict across any aspect of your life. How would you describe it and what elements were present?

There are plenty of definitions out there of varying lengths, severity, objectivity and emotion. Anytime you have opposing or incompatible objectives, ideas or actions you have conflict. According to Professor Dues from Arizona University, the conflict can be understood as a ‘discomforting difference’, and this difference is inevitable within any organisation, team and relationship. In work it is often product of competition, collaboration or a healthy exchange of ideas and creativity.

Accepting this natural inevitability is the first part of improving how you frame your experience with conflict. Many of us wish it never lands on our desk, or when it does it will simply evaporate and be swept under the rug. However, as many of us know by doing nothing and hoping for it to disappear can often be the fuel for further friction and resentment.

Typically, the general source of conflicts occurs when there is a difference in:

• Goals and needs

• Perspectives, perceptions or meaning attached to an event

• Perceived power in the relationship

Identifying the source of that difference early can make for a less stressful engagement and reduce the chances of it snowballing into a more volatile beast.

A neuroscience approach to help you identify the source of conflict was developed by David Rock, a thought leader in this space. ‘Many sources of conflict could be found in one or perhaps all, of the elements outlined in David Rock’s ‘SCARF model’. Let’s take a look at it in action:

We’ve identified your conflict in question, so sticking with this I want you to consider the following elements as part of the SCARF acronym:

Status – Was there a difference in perception of status or perhaps one party may have felt unimportant to the other party?

Certainty – Was there any element of the conflict context where you or the other party may have felt uncertainty?

Autonomy Perceived – Did you or the other parties experience a lack of control or choice in decisions?

Relatedness – Did you or the parties involved experience a feeling of isolation or disconnect?

Fairness – Did any of the parties experience or perceive any unfairness in the decision making, relationship or responsibilities?

By making our way through this process we can really get under the bonnet of the conflict in question and understand how it emerged. However, emotions are present in every conflict and sometimes hijack the front of our brains disallowing us to consider a more rational conclusion or response. Give yourself an extra second with that awareness and allow yourself to make a more measured response to the event and stimulus.

With that extra second you have a choice, you can respond as opposed to reacting while on autopilot. Do you turn away, turn against or turn towards? Opting for the win-win situation by turning towards is the most difficult and stretches our patience, emotional intelligence, pride and sometimes our egos.

Think about the conflict example you’ve already used – how did you respond? Did you turn away, turn against or turn towards?

How effective was this response? Was there any discomfort for either party?

Inevitably, there will be plenty more conflict in the future, how will you choose to respond to it in the short term to make the experience less uncomfortable and volatile in the long term?

In the next part of our blog series we will share a strategy to successfully move towards resolution during conflict. However, Step 1 is seeking to understand and manage emotions before the hijack clouds your decision making and forces you to react rather than respond.

… Always easier said than done