Photo of people arguing at work

People Are Messy

Conflict Resolution
Written by Carol Bowser

People are messy. They can flummox the most thoughtful process. They get strangely tied to particular solutions. They refuse to engage, but avoid saying why. They tell you what they want, but aren’t satisfied if you give it to them.

We all know that people are messy. Because people are messy, we irritate and frustrate one another. Tension builds and conflict happens. Organizational drag results. What can you do?

First, determine if you have an argument or a conflict on your hands. What is the difference? Glad you asked.

Arguments are icky. Arguments get people stuck in positions. Arguments devolving into blaming, shaming, and negative labeling. Who wants that? No one. Emotions get more escalated. People start trying to convince each other of the “rightness” or “logic” or (gulp) the “righteousness” of their solutions or (double gulp) the moral “wrongness” of the other person.

The usual result is unproductive venting. (There actually is productive venting. More on productive venting in a future post.) No one willing to back down. Listening for what concerns? Totally out of the window. Of course, gossip follows. Organizational drag grows. Bad feelings fester.

Conflict, on the other hand, is interesting. If there is conflict, something important is happening. There are core values in play. There might be concerns about respect or reputation. In workplaces, there are almost always concerns about trust and successful job performance. Conflict arises because people are trying -unsuccessfully- to get their needs met. They want things to be better. Things have gotten stuck.

Helping people get “unstuck’ that is powerful stuff. It is fun stuff. Well, at least I think so.

Why? Because this type of help involves assisting organizations and people build their conflict resolution muscles by expanding their “conflict tool kits”. Tools that include insights, language, and frameworks that help them “get out of the sucking vortex of pissed off” and talking about important stuff in a more productive way. The result is to get out of the blaming, shaming, and labeling of arguments and into productive conversations, better decisions, and better follow through.

This is important. Conflict management is more than just “pacifying” people or “making nice” or “just getting along.” Instead, it delves more into enabling people to start talking about what’s important to them, help them stop arguing, and find common ground where we can achieve mutual cooperation. It helps them do their job.

People are messy. Each conflict is unique because people are uniquely messy on different days and in different ways. The first step in helping them resolve their disputes is helping them determine if this is an argument or a deeper conflict? Start by asking “help me understand why what is going on is so important?” Go ahead. Try it. You might be surprised.

If you get stuck, I got your back. Reach out.