In a 2012 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 65 percent of Americans cited work as a top source of stress. The study cites a number stress sources, ranging from excessive workload to lack of social support. Many of the sources are rooted in conflict situations.
Whether at home or at work, conflict can leave us feeling frustrated, unmotivated and unfocused. We bring our work troubles home and our home troubles to work, with little opportunity (or time) to sort out tensions.
Collaborative environments, where individuals feel free to vigorously debate and challenge ideas, rather than “go along to get along,” are within reach. We typically think our ability to work without conflict depends on how others treat us, but Arbinger’s work suggests something different: our ability to cut through conflict depends on how we see others. The structure, the nature of real collaboration, is the same at home, at work, or in our communities. And it all begins with mindset.
Whenever I mistreat someone, I justify myself by blaming the person I have mistreated. I’m consumed by how they’re at fault, and as I get deeper into the conflict situation, all I can see is how the other person is to blame. Interestingly enough, we rarely consider ourselves to have played a role in the conflict.
If I and a colleague are engaged in a conflict (and have inevitably garnered allies with others at work and at home), how happy are we to go to work? And how hard do we want to work at our jobs if this is the kind of swamp we’re drudging through all day long? Will extra meetings have to be called to solve all of the problems that are being created? Think about turnover—if someone decides they’ve had enough of this, they may decide to leave. Management has to spend the time and money to hire someone else (who is likely going to be treated the same way as the employee who left). That’s not only a significant human cost, it’s a huge financial cost for an organization.
In conflict, I’m focused on myself—not only do I take my focus off of helping my company achieve results collectively, but my focus is now off the customer. I might still be good at talking about the customer, but that’s different than being focused toward the customer. When we’re in conflict, the customers, our colleagues, our managers, and our direct reports often get lost from view.
There is a real difference between symptoms and causes. Symptoms of conflict are things like avoiding each other, or yelling at each other, or mistreating each other in some way. We might be tempted to look to behavioral modifiers—books on how to treat others, or workshops on team building and the roles people should play. It’s easy to look at and attempt to eliminate symptoms, but what’s more critical is to understand the core root cause beneath all of those symptoms—our own inward mindsets, or the ways in which we are self-focused and not taking others’ needs, objectives and challenges into account.
If the situation is to change, I need to address what I’m resisting—it begins with me considering how I might be functioning (or dysfunctioning) from an inward mindset. One of the symptoms I often will experience when I have an inward mindset is that I don’t have a real interest in asking how I might be a problem for others. Honestly asking, “How might I be a problem for others?” is a good place to start.