Most companies view conflict as the fire – this outside negative force they must put out, avoid or control. By its very nature this approach is reactive and outward focused. It provides little opportunity for growth. Primarily driven by fear, it contributes to the prevailing culture of distrust and aggression in the workplace.
A more conscious paradigm is to view conflict as the fire alarm which alerts and reflects what is happening within the organization, and creates an opportunity for fire prevention by encouraging growth, understanding, connection and dialogue. The three strategies outlined below provide a way to tune inward in conflict in the following three ways: on interpersonal level through mediation; organizational level through restorative dialogue; and individually through the tuning-in practice. Together these strategies can effectively foster a culture of reflection and connection, creating a more productive, committed, inspired and creative company communities.
Mediation is a confidential, voluntary process where a specially trained neutral individual creates space for two or more parties to a conflict to have an authentic, expansive conversation. The point of mediation is not resolution or settlement, but an understanding. In other words, following a successful mediation the parties are walking away with a better understanding of what is important to them and/or to their conflict partners.
Mediation provides a way for members of the organization to deal with conflict through a direct face-to-face interaction. Such an interaction discourages gossip, passive aggression and unwarranted assumptions, while enabling individuals to listen to each other and to consider differing points of view. The impact of mediation goes beyond the interaction between conflicting parties. When utilized as a conflict resolution tool within the organization, it empowers people to become creative problem-solvers who take responsibility for their interactions. It thus promotes the culture of understanding, collaboration, creativity and personal growth.
2. Restorative Dialogue
Whereas mediation focuses on conflict among individuals, restorative dialogue provides a way to address systemic issues that impact large portions of the organization or even organization as a whole. The purpose of the restorative dialogue is to restore (or foster) a sense of balance, fairness, openness and trust. Restorative dialogue consists of the following three parts: information gathering; the circle process and follow up.
Information gathering entails identifying the appropriate stakeholders who must participate in the conversation and determining their key positions, interests, values, feelings, needs and suggestions for moving forward. From this information it is important to deduce broad areas of concern and agreement and outline the ideas for moving forward.
The circle process is a ceremony dedicated to openly discussing the concern impacting the organization while the stakeholders sit around in a circle and speak one at a time. The ceremonial aspect of the circle process creates the experience of a safe, sacred and open space. When skillfully facilitated, the circle process encourages deep understanding, compassion and connection among the participants.
Follow-up is a very important part of the restorative dialogue. Follow-up includes a summary of concerns, areas of agreement and next steps raised during the circle pProcess. It also sets down concrete actions for moving forward and establishes clear consequences if there is no appropriate follow through.
Organizations which adopt restorative dialogue as part of their stakeholder engagement program can count on having a strong sense of community where individuals feel free to bring their concerns and are empowered to address them in a collaborative, open and constructive ways.
3. Tuning-In Practice
Tuning-in practice is a way to introduce mindfulness into the workplace by setting aside time 5-10 minutes per day on regular basis for individuals to be quite and to tune in. While simple, inexpensive and easy to implement, tuning-in practice can radically transform employee interactions, enabling people to be more engaged with each other, less reactive and more focused. While there are numerous mindfulness practices and techniques, the one I utilize in corporate settings is called connected breathing.
To practice the connected breathing technique I invite individuals to first notice their breath, focusing on colder air entering the nostrils as they inhale and on warmer air leaving the nostrils as they exhale. After few moments of simply being aware of the breath, I invite the participants to consciously make their breathing deeper, engaging the chest, the stomach and even their pelvic floor as they breath. As the breath becomes deeper, I instruct people to let the breath move in one, smooth, continuous motion with no pauses or breaks. The final element of this technique is the use of a simple four-word mantra: “I am here now,” where each of the words corresponds to the movement of the breath (inhale “I” exhale “am” inhale “here” exhale” now). Just five minutes of this practice helps people relax, gain clarity and to improve their communications
The regular Tuning In Practice such as the connected breathing technique relaxes the nervous system enabling people to listen, empathize and reflect. Of course, individuals who are able to listen, empathize and reflect will interact with each other differently in or outside of conflict and would be much more capable of engaging in a constructive dialogue.
By accepting the invitation to go inward and treating conflict as the fire alarm rather than the fire, organizations can adopt a more meaningful and focused approach to conflict. Instead of reacting to conflict with aggression, avoidance or fear, the above strategies can empower conscious organizations to respond to conflict with clarity, openness and compassion. Responding to conflict in such a way creates an organizational culture of growth, connection and dialogue. With a culture like this there are fewer fires to put out.
A version of this article was written for Conscious Company Magazine and originally appeared on September 25, 2018 at www.consciouscompanymedia.com