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It’s that time of year when we carve scary pumpkins, don spooky fancy dress and generally celebrate the creepier things in life.
All Hallow’s Eve, as it was originally known, is a time to use humor and ridicule to confront the power of death. We look at the things that scare us most and, by taking them out of their usual context, try to take away their power.
What better time, then, to explore the dark shadows that surround workplace conflict? What better time to throw some light into the dingy corners of our fears and discover that they are not nearly as terrifying as we thought?
We all know the feeling. Something difficult happens at work. We feel disrespected or unfairly treated or just think that something could be done a different way but we don’t know how to speak up about it. We know we should, but we’re too scared.
As time goes on, we start to dread the prospect of actually confronting the problem. As TCM Senior Resolution Consultant Elaine Smit puts it,
“The cold sweat of conflict can be a bleak prospect for any employee. Fear arises from the unknown and from the feeling of helplessness. This is a common feeling when in conflict. You can’t wait for the weekend so you can have a couple of days peace, but as soon as you leave the office on Friday, you already start dreading and fearing Monday, knowing it is just around the corner.”
Pretty soon, the thought is haunting us almost all the time. And just as the unexplained bump in the night has the power to send our minds racing, it is the unknown that makes us worry so much about conflict. How will the other person react? Will they get angry? What will they say?
Owen Bubbers, Principal Resolution Consultant at TCM, says it is this uncertainty which can often make the situation worse.
“As Humans, we are prone to catastrophise when we face the unknown or a situation we feel is beyond our control in some way. As the bestselling book on negotiating, Getting to Yes, highlights, as a result we tend to deduce the other person’s intentions based on our fears, i.e. I fear you may try to belittle me in front of our boss, therefore I will act as though you will try to belittle me even though there may be no evidence on which to base this.”
Before long, we’ve wound ourselves into a tight knot of fear. Our colleagues may well pick up on the problem and then reach their own conclusions based on the same fears and catastrophizing.
Soon the workplace has more ghosts flying around it than a haunted house. Giles Macnair, Senior Resolution Consultant at TCM explains:
“Ghosts’ is a term that is sometimes used to describe an issue that the parties have which needs to be explored but is not being put on the table. So it can be scary to open this up as you don’t know where it is going to lead sometimes.”
So how do we find the light switch in this house of horrors? How do we find out what’s making those scary noises, what’s causing those ghosts to haunt us?
Elaine Smit says there is only one way to banish the nasties:
“Mediation is the key. Taking the time to discuss through these issues with each other, listening and responding.
Understanding and negotiating. Clearing the air and agreeing how to move forward in a way that works for both of you. An experienced, impartial and competent Mediator will facilitate such a discussion and provide every opportunity for the conversation to be successful. So leave the anxiety and dread behind. Put the horror of conflict behind you.”
It won’t be easy. Giles Macnair says the process can be scary for everyone, “People may have bottled up emotions for months or years. When the bottle is opened the reactions are unpredictable. So as a mediator you are likely to have tears – and the parties cry as well!”
The work we put in to resolve conflict is well worth it. It is the only way to really address what scares us, to lay our undead anxieties to rest and banish the ghosts of confrontation and catastrophising once and for all.