Effective conflict resolution has always been important in the work setting. Employees are the beating heart of a company, and a poor conflict management system is about the most unsustainable thing you can have as a boss or workspace leader. The practice of leading from empathy and working towards an effective and permanent solution is imperative in a work setting that aims to create a safe space for all individuals with all identities, and if this past year has taught us anything, it’s that accommodating all identities is the way forward in the workplace. But simply sitting down and listening to people’s problems is not going to cut it in a diversified setting.
Empathy for all identities requires a fair amount of learning and unlearning, asking you to dedicate a little bit of your own time to educating yourself on the many different realities that people within your office space experience on a daily basis. Of course, knowing where to start is tricky. That’s why it is best to break down the learning and unlearning process into the different components that are present during a conflict and then work from there.
- Understand the identities that are represented within your workspace
While diversity is a wonderful quality within a workspace, it means nothing without equity for those diverse individuals. Part of effectively representing diversity within your workplace is understanding that the identities that are represented do not disappear when a conflict arises. This presents many gray areas within each argument that need to be explored. Instead of approaching each conflict through a black and white lens, try to explore those gray areas. Ask yourself how the identities each person possesses might influence or shift their perspective on the conflict, and be empathetic to those gray areas. Conflicts are not as simple as they seem when you factor in the many reasons they might occur and the ways in which each person’s individual identity shapes their response, so make sure you are prepared to see all perspectives and respond accordingly.
- Understand power dynamics within your workspace
Identities are not the only factor that can affect a conflict. There are many power dynamics that are present within a workplace, some of which are professionally necessarily established by the hierarchy of the workplace and some of which are unspoken and implied through different identities and workplace relationships. Both of these power dynamics can and will come into play when conflict arises. Part of being an effective problem solver is being privy to these power dynamics, both spoken and unspoken, and understanding how they affect workplace relations.
- Understand different levels of severity in situations
Another facet that can have a major effect on workplace conflicts is severity of a situation. This can, of course, be affected by identity and power dynamics, but it can also be independent of these other two components. Because each individual experiences life differently and places a differing value on certain facets of their life, such as work, the severity of certain conflicts will be different for each of them. Therefore, what may feel like an over or under-reaction to a situation may actually be perfectly rational when you step into their shoes and empathize with their situation. Differing levels of severity can seem to be a minor issue that does not necessarily need to be considered when solving a conflict. However, it can be a strong factor in how people choose to act in certain scenarios, meaning that it is something you should keep in mind when practicing empathy during conflict resolution periods.
Conflict resolution has always been one of the more daunting parts of being a workplace leader. It is stressful and often feels as though you are disappointing someone no matter what action you take. However, it is your mission to ensure that your area of work is not only representing a diverse population, but is actively practicing empathy and equity towards those identities. You must expand your perception of conflict and the many different components that can influence it in order to create a conflict resolution process that is fit for 2022 and the beautiful diversity it has brought with it.