Blog Post


A Proactive vs Reactive Approach to Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict happens. In organizations made up of diverse humans it’s to be expected. However, companies are spending billions of dollars annually training their employees to “ manage” conflict when each employee could be learning how to recognize, deal with, and resolve conflict at its onset, instead.

Employees (leaders and individual contributors)  in United States companies spend approximately 2.8 hours each week involved in conflict. This amounts to around $359 billion in hours paid that are filled with – and focused on – conflict instead of on positive productivity. (CPP Inc., 2008).

In general,  most conflict management solutions are short-lived because the approaches focus on manipulating the external reasons for the conflict (managing symptoms) without considering where the conflict truly resides, which is with the underlying beliefs and assumptions of the persons involved in the conflict (root cause). This approach is much like a doctor trying to heal someone’s heart problems by giving them a hug. So what is the real source of conflict?

Identifying the real source of conflict

It is not unusual to think about the source of conflicts being out there, because the most commonly used definition of a conflict is that it is a disagreement or clash with someone or something else. 

In this article, we view conflict as personal and internal, caused by a discord between the way you are thinking and the way you are behaving.

Conflicts can surface in three ways:  

  1. What you want conflicts with what you do
    For example; You want to uphold your organizations’ culture value and behavior of respect (behavior: not gossiping) but you still go to lunch with a group of friends who participate in gossip, to feel that you belong. 

  2. You behave as you think you should and don’t want to. 
    For example; You attend training sessions that you believe you are competent in even though you do not want to because you were told to go.  Being unaware of this conflict, you may be more disruptive in the session or stay quiet with a “scowl” on your face for the entire training. 

  3. You have two conflicting motives or thoughts. 
    For example; you think, “getting a promotion will bring security” and you also think, “leaders have too many headaches.”  Obviously, the conflict is between security and leadership. 

In all the cases, the thoughts and behaviors are discordant and create conflict. When conflict is left unexamined it can generate an emotional upset within you and consequently, the fuel to blame someone or something else for the way you feel. When I discovered the source of my conflict was behaving as I thought I should and not wanting to, I regained the courage to say “no” and rarely got upset. 

Take a moment and identify the source of your conflict and then read on to learn how to move beyond being upset.

Moving Past an Upset ( emotional response to inner conflict )

When you are upset, the natural human reflex reaction is to point fingers and blame someone or something out there. But if conflicts are internal and upsets are the emotional expression of that internal conflict, where must the upset be addressed in order to be resolved? Exactly, inside YOU.

Learning how to address your upset begins with understanding The 4 Reasons for Upsets. They are:

  • Judgment
  • Unkept promise to self
  • Withheld communication
  • Unmet expectation

To discover which of the four reasons is yours, bring to mind a situation that still upsets you today. Notice the conversation you have about it in your own mind (source of the conflict) or what you say when you talk about it to others. Pay attention to the words you hear yourself use most often. 

If you hear a lot of “shoulds”, as in, they should have or shouldn’t have, it’s most likely your judgment that is causing the conflict. 

If you hear yourself say,
I told myself I wasn’t going to do that again or something similar, it’s probably an unkept promise to self.

If you hear yourself say something like, “
I wish I had…, there’s a good chance it’s withheld communication. 

And if you hear yourself thinking or saying,
I would expect them to… then it’s likely an unmet expectation that you’re dealing with. 

While you may recognize all of these upsets, resolution begins with choosing only the one that feels most right.  

Once you identify the reason for your upset you have the power to do something about it. Some examples follow:

If you have been lost in judgment, you can neutralize the judgment by choosing to view others as not good or bad, but just different.  Then you can calmly decide to engage or disengage in a way that is mutually respectful.

If it’s an unkept promise to self, you can check in to see if it was a realistic promise you made to yourself or perhaps discover what internal barrier to empowerment (fear of judgment, loss, rejection, etc.) interfered with you keeping your promise.

If it was withheld communication, you can choose to go back in and speak your truth or discover what internal barrier to empowerment kept you from speaking up (fear of judgment, loss, rejection, etc.) and be willing to choose differently next time.

If it’s an unmet expectation you can decide whether you want to be clearer about communicating your expectations in the future or perhaps let go of ones that are causing you to be continually upset. 

 You are only without power when you give it away to others.

To summarize, our conflicts are ours, which are a result of our thinking being in discord with our behavior. Making someone else responsible for our conflicts and upsets only prolongs them. As long as the finger is pointed out there, your peace will depend on someone else always saying or doing all the “right” things. We believe you deserve more than that.

Ultimately, identifying the real reason for upset restores your personal power and therefore allows for resolution of conflict. When you’re aware of and accountable for the source of your conflict, you have a fast track to a peaceful mind and the productivity that accompanies it. 

The vast majority of those who suffer from stress, anxiety and/or depression due to conflict continue to work. This ‘presenteeism’ has a negative impact on productivity with an annual cost estimated between £590 million and £2.3 billion (Acas, 2021).

The Russell Method embeds this proactive approach to conflict into all its services, not only creating sustainable results (you wont need to keep reading blogs like this or hire consultants like us) but  happier, healthier and more productive workforces by embedding this type of thinking into the culture. As always, it starts with YOU, the human inside the suit. 


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