How to navigate conflicts?

A work community with excellent problem-solving skills is able to stop and review the causes of difficult situations, what emotions are involved, and how the situation can be resolved. This way, the community can harness the energy hidden in conflicts.

End-user: Helmi Hämäläinen, Trainer: Jarmo Manner

A customer in a bad mood can cause a major conflict in a work community. Here’s how: Pekka is angry and gets customer service agent Helmi in a bad mood. She is angry and snaps at her colleague Antti, who takes the comment personally. The situation escalates when Antti begins spreading information about Helmi’s bad collaboration skills. All this started from a negative feeling and lousy communication, which caused Antti to make a wrongful conclusion about Helmi’s behavior.

Little did Pekka know that his actions created a massive conflict within the work community. He was just offloading his ‘hungry anger’ on Helmi, who was innocent in the situation.

‘Conflicts often arise from our expectations and might therefore be totally pointless.’ Corporate management trainer Jarmo Manner says that in such circumstances we imagine disagreements even if our actual objectives are the same.

Manner is the coach of Academy of Brain’s online course on solving conflicts. During his career, he has noticed that conflicts in organizations cause financial losses and human suffering.

‘At its best, a conflict can be a source of creativity, but at its worst, it can kill motivation and freeze the business.’ According to Manner, the best teams know how to handle conflicts and see these as a prerequisite for development. 

The four doors lead to solutions

In practice, resolving conflicts entails constructive discussion. Our online course, How to solve conflicts, teaches you to look at disputes through four doors. These perspectives help you review the causes of difficult situations, what emotions are involved, and how the situation can be resolved. The doors are used to enhance discussions that are both constructive and instructive.

The journey towards resolving a conflict starts with the first door, which offers a glance at the truth. Solving a conflict begins with finding out who is right in the situation and what perspectives different parties have. Antti could not have known about Pekka’s outburst towards Helmi.

The second door leads to emotions. Conflicts reoccur despite the people, and there might not even be a specific reason for them. However, when we act based on our feelings, it is common to start blaming others. Therefore, Antti was acting as people usually do.

If I think about my own emotions during conflicts, I first think of shame. I avoid resolving the situation as I fear I will be judged. Furthermore, I don’t want to put others in a position where I would judge their failures.

‘The most significant psychological obstacle for conflict resolution is the fear of offending others with candid talk.’ Manner notes that this is why staying silent is safe. According to Manner, small disagreements should be immediately addressed as they escalate over time.

Bad feelings are not an obstacle to solving conflicts. Our mind has two primary states: the cheetah and the owl. The first one is an emotional and intuitive predator and the other one a wise observer who only emerges in a safe environment.

During a conflict, we must identify which one is in control, as the owl is the only one capable of discussing constructively.

The third door shows the identity, which everyone puts on the table during stressful situations. Solving conflicts requires the ability to see the situation objectively: I’m not a bad person even if my colleague is critical of my actions.

The fourth door reveals the actual situation. I can be constructive during a conflict if I understand the conditions leading to the conflict and what led to its escalation.

These four doors help you clarify your own mind before discussing the conflict with others. At the same time, you have a moment to find your inner owl.