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The Beauty of Conflict

  • Published
  • By Mindy Morris
  • 628th Air Base Wing

Imagery

Imagine the process of glass making.  There are separate materials with their own boundaries, makeup and place in the world going into an open furnace to break down the elements, meld them together, and create something new and glorious. There are other natural friction points that create new opportunities. Carbon compressed under the earth over time creates diamonds.  Caterpillars become butterflies. Forests have planned, contained fires that clear the way for new growth.

Even with these examples of two or more distinct elements working and evolving together, the simple truth is that people are usually not comfortable with confrontation, conflict, or change.  We are comfortable in what is familiar, structures and people we know, and similar experiences.

Conflict

Conflict is unavoidable. When two or more people are gathered for lengths of time, even under the best of circumstances, there will be disagreements. Think of newlyweds or new roommates getting used to living together and the preferences of one and assumptions of how to do things of another combine. Hopefully, they will use the opportunity to explain their perspectives, ask for the other’s point of view, and come to an agreement that works for both of them.

Conflict done well can improve processes, relationships, respect, self-and-other awareness, and clear past hurts. When people feel appreciated, acknowledged, and like a meaningful member of the team, the relationships are strong which helps people extend the benefit of the doubt.  

Conflict avoided, trivialized, or forced to a premature conclusion detracts from mission accomplishment and a meaningful relationship. People will naturally focus on their perception of the problem and begin to dig in to their “position” or feeling slighted, ignored, victimized, etc.  As a result, productivity, motivation, and trust go down. Alternatively, absenteeism, blame, defensiveness, and turnover go up. As people try to get people ‘on their side’, gossiping and unproductive time will become more likely.

Most conflict involves a breakdown in the communication process. Communication is the art of sending a message to a receiver with the least loss of meaning. The receiver needs to be able to provide feedback if they did not understand the message. There are many barriers to effective communication, such as: generational, cultural, physiological (too hot, cold), stress, language, personality conflicts, power imbalance, and many others.

Resources

Lowest level resolution is always encouraged, and there are many options already in place to help deliberately develop conflict management and conflict resolution techniques. Any class in self-awareness can help you understand how you see and communicate to the world. These courses also help you understand how people see you. The EO office offers a course on Negotiation and Dispute Resolution for managers and supervisors.

There are also free online courses you can take through AF Portal Learning section, myVector articles and courses for development, Air Force Negotiation and Dispute Resolution website, Air Force Negotiation Center website, or the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute conflict management, organizational socialization, trust in e-leadership courses.

Finally, the 628th Air Base Wing Equal Opportunity & Negotiated Dispute Resolution office has a trained cadre to offer interest based negotiation sessions (facilitation for military members and mediation for civilian members) assigned to units we serve. The opportunities for creative problem solving in a safe, neutral place can span from equal opportunity complaints, workplace disputes, appraisals, communication breakdowns, or long-standing personality conflicts. A trained neutral will guide the parties through the process to unpack the issues and concerns, discover the root cause of the issues (behavior stems from thoughts and feelings like unmet needs, expectations or desires), and develop a way forward that both parties agree to. The parties involved maintain control of the process and the outcome. There is no “right” or “wrong” person or legal standards of evidence to see if someone would be “guilty”. The hopeful outcome would be a restored relationship, improved communication and a “working” workplace. There is no harm in trying, and much to gain. Please call us at 843-963-3662 or email us at 628ABW.EO.EqualOpportunity@us.af.mil with any questions or concerns.

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