Oct 13 2019| Leadership

Feel the Fear, Transform the Conflict

How can we overcome our conflict-avoidance?

by Kaaren Welsby Associate

Through our work to enhance emotional intelligence and create flourishing workplaces, I have been struck by how many people are affected by a fear of conflict and are negatively impacted by conflict at work.

All conflict is difficult and it can be especially problematic when it involves those placed in positions of power - at any level.


Can staff ‘speak truth to power’?

In examining the general willingness to speak up and speak out, it is important to think about how we perceive and approach power - and also exactly what we might say if and when we do decide to speak. Questions I might ask include:

  1. Is there an 'open door' policy within our workplace - or does this exist in name only because the door is usually either slightly ajar or closed?
  2. Is there a well-documented procedure for feeding back concerns or suggestions - or possibly a forum in which differing views can be aired?
  3. Exactly how much notice is really taken of these lines of communication - and are they truly two-way?


Do you engender trust and belonging?

These questions can be linked directly to the state and 'health' of the existing culture within a business. It is vital that we feel that we truly matter to an organisation and that we really belong there. If this sense of trust and 'psychological safety' exists then we are more likely to feel confident to challenge the status quo and suggest or effect change, if change is necessary.


Is your company culture open to challenges?

The question remains whether real or lasting change can be effected if the prevailing culture of a business - or key individuals within it - may be closed to challenge or suggestion.

Especially within large organisations, the culture is set, maintained and overseen by senior leaders but over time it is shaped by the attitudes and behaviours of the individuals within the organisation.

This serves to highlight the difference between what is perceived from the external or structural framework of a business, as opposed to its more fluid internal composition - or the individuals who operate within it.


Is fear to blame for inactivity?

Rather than shapeshifting at will, it is sometimes very easy for individuals to feel frozen into inactivity. The emotion of fear can be responsible for this. We may be so fearful of taking a step that we retreat into feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. We may believe that there is no point in speaking out because 'nothing ever changes' and that nothing we do will make any difference.

If we choose to listen to our fears and do not act, then known patterns will endlessly repeat themselves. If we do not act courageously in speaking out, then nothing can or will change. And this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Can you shine a spotlight on the darker corners?

If we are indeed linked to one another within our places of work, however tenuously, then we share a level of collective responsibility. We owe it to each other to speak out if we see wrongs being perpetrated, slights going unchallenged, or malpractice becoming what is expected rather than the exception to the rule.

We all have a duty to speak truth to power - and to each other. In this way a spotlight can be shone on those blindspots and the darker sides of business and human nature.


Know yourself to overcome fear

The psychological assessments that we run at Leaders Consultancy serve to increase self awareness and the ability to see beyond behaviours to underlying values. If we can understand and know ourselves better then we can enhance our ability to overcome any problems and blocks in our way. We can also shrink our feelings of fear and begin to expand our levels of self confidence. When we are equipped with greater confidence we can become more resilient.


Shake off inactivity

A slight shift in our perception, both inward and outward, can create the new conditions required to act and to effect a move forward. In this way conflict can sometimes be defused and may become a medium for positive change, rather than a generator of stress - and dis-ease.

No-one deserves to live and operate for prolonged periods of time in an environment that is marked by fear and conflict.


Contact us to see how we can defuse conflict in your organisation and work with impact and meaning alongside you and your team.

About The Author | Kaaren Welsby

Dr Kaaren Welsby is a charismatic communicator and academic achiever with 20 years of front-facing military, education and training experience. She is energetic and creative, with the ability to motivate and inspire others. Kaaren possesses a first class BA (Honours) degree in English Literature, an MA (Honours) degree in the written word and the visual imagination and a PhD in English Literature and Art History. She also has a PGCE in secondary English teaching. Kaaren is a Major in the British Army Reserves; she has undertaken two operational tours and is a trained media officer. She has worked extensively in the field of army recruitment, education and programme delivery, before becoming an education adviser for the Army Officer Selection Board, part of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst group. She now specialises in the educational and psychological assessment of potential army officer candidates. Kaaren has a breadth of experience in working with people from a variety of backgrounds, including intensive one-to-one support for young people in education and care. She is an experienced coach, assisting others to fulfil both their personal and professional potential.

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