Overcoming Conflict Avoidance - Guest Post

Overcoming Conflict Avoidance - Guest Post

Guest Post - Overcoming Conflict Avoidance

SANTALUM is a change management consulting firm that creates systems and tools to address inequity, complex conflict, and exclusion in the workforce. It was founded by Kiran Thadhani and Kyle Gibson. 

Together, Kiran and Kyle have led organizational change across cultures, contexts, and sectors in North America, Europe, Asia, North Africa, and Australia over the past decade. They are facilitators, management specialists, and complex conflict experts that serve as principals and founders of the firm. 

SANTALUM is building a world where work is a place of belonging. A place where people know their power and conflict is a generative force for change - Here is a guest post from SANTALUM

Guest Post | By Kyle Gibson and Kiran Thadhani

We are living in a time of intense societal splintering, as a result of COVID-19 and the needed measures of social distancing. However, the world remains in motion and the points of tension in our life persist. These forces are a perfect backdrop for heightened conflict avoidance at work. From long screen lags, toneless emails, and conversations that lack closeness, trust, and vulnerability — there is no question that there is only greater difficulty in this moment to address conflict. 

At work, conflict avoidance leads to repercussions on the personal, interpersonal, and institutional level. Often, it starts small but the consequences can be catastrophic. 

When conflicts are ignored, relationships change, trust breaks, and communication is hindered. Creativity, innovation, productivity, and belonging are then destabilized in the workplace. 

This can create toxic and oppressive systems and structures. We often see this in responses and reactions to situations like: When someone in authority gives a direction, do people follow? Do others speak up if they disagree? Or when someone does something that is disagreeable, rude, or prejudiced - is it addressed? Avoided? Or is broader group harmony prioritized? 

Conflict avoidance also occurs at the systemic level. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, there is growing social and political pressure for businesses, institutions, and organizations to change. However, when institutions do not fully engage and only post singular statements in response to movements that push equity and inclusion forward, they are actively participating in conflict avoidance to maintain the status quo.

SANTALUM is supporting institutions and individuals who want to take serious and legitimate actions to address conflict, inequity, and harm whether they are very new or rooted in centuries of history. Here are some of the areas where we begin this work: 

1. Acknowledge that Conflict is Rooted in Power, Culture, and Systems.

Conflict is deeply rooted in culture and power dynamics. Whether in a hierarchy, on a flat team, or with a customer relationship power dynamics are always present. They have a connection to individual and group cultures and are tied to our visible and invisible identities such as our race, gender, sexual orientation, age or beliefs, values, traditions, and histories. 

2. Recognize that Conflict is Human. 

Suspend judgement of whether conflict is good or bad even for just a moment and try to acknowledge its existence and humanity. Whether a conflict expert, top executive, or new member into the workforce there are challenging and complex webs of conflict that form and it is important to know the very common and human nature of conflict.

3. Grow Curious about your Relationship to Conflict. 

What is your relationship to conflict? Emotionally? Cognitively? Structurally? Culturally? Seek to look within yourself and at the dynamics of the situation to determine what information you have. What has happened? How are you feeling? What have you done or not done so far to address the situation? 

4. Interrogate your Assumptions. 

Enter an emotional and mental space to step outside of yourself and to take additional perspectives. What assumptions might you have? How might others involved be thinking or seeing the situation? Are there parts of your narrative that you think might not be shared with others you are in conflict with? Is there a possibility that actions, conversations, or messages could have been sent or received with different intent and also impact? 

5. Don’t Do it Alone. 

An ally, listener, coach, or trained professional can be key in helping to explore the situation at hand, express or affirm, and share in your grief or frustration. Addressing things with a person who can work with you to hear your story, brainstorm options, support perspective taking, and support you in coming back to the table can be crucial to overcoming avoidance. Find an advocate or partner that does not just offer advice, but rather seek out individuals who have a more thorough and thoughtful approach to navigating conflict. 

As workplaces seek to shift inequitable structures, there will inherently be conflict. SANTALUM believes that conflict can be generative and it is critical to stop perpetuating cycles of conflict avoidance. If interested in learning more about SANTALUM and there services, you can  email them at info@santalum.io

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