The ‘F’ word as a way of life

If you ever watch an American TV series that is shown on public television, you will notice something very unique about it…there is no use of the ‘F’ word, ever. In our workplaces and personal lives I am advocating the use of another profound ‘F’ word. An ‘F’ word that has for a very long time been BANNED from our workplace vocabulary. In fact if you mention this word in your workplace you will be looked at strangely and people will avoid you and walk out of rooms when you enter. And it all has to do with resolving conflict.

Technical solutions and train wrecks

Conflict between people in the workplace has no technical solution. Just ask anyone working in HR. The reason for this is that you are dealing with emotional hurt and this hurt has no technical solution, no topical cream or anesthetic that can be applied to it. Some of these technical solutions include performance management! Disappointingly, organisations keep trying to apply topical creams to workplace conflicts, which is akin to insanity; doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome.

There is a bigger problem to addressing workplace conflict; it’s that no-one wants to deal with the emotions of others and be part of the train wreck that can sometimes result. Unfortunately though, if you aren’t willing to meet another human being on the same plane, one human being to another, there is absolutely no hope of resolving conflict between people.

So removed do we want to remain in dealing with workplace conflict that we don’t even refer to the people involved in the conflict as people, we instead refer to them as ‘parties’, ‘complainants’ and ‘respondents’. We dehumanise the people in the conflict and expect to work with them towards resolving the conflict as if it exists separate from the people themselves. What an absurd position to start from! Just have a read of any workplace policy on grievance resolution if you don’t believe me.

Address the underlying problem

I read blogs and articles day after day laying out the steps involved in resolving workplace conflict and they all offer good advice (same old same old) and yet none of them ever say, “Treat the people as people. That is, human beings with feelings and emotions and a history of life that you will never know. See them as human beings who need more than anything else to feel accepted, acknowledged, heard and valued.”  Well there you go, I said it! Wouldn’t this be a better position to start from? It requires a high level of emotional intelligence to see another human being as valuable, to accept them and acknowledge their existence without feeling that you are giving up something and becoming lesser a human being in the process. (BTW, it makes no difference to me if you like or dislike the term emotional intelligence, call it what you want). Just realise that people are people.

I recently delivered a two day emotional intelligence workshop and there were many differing levels of hurt and anger in the room. One person in particular seemed to take a particular dislike to me which seemed to me to be a reflection of her own anger in her life. She was certainly not acting from a position of “emotional intelligence” and it was plain to everyone in the room. She was the perfect example of what I was talking about. The reason for telling you this is the next point; my wife very aptly noted that where there is anger there is no room for emotional intelligence and personal growth. A point very well demonstrated in these two days.

The BIG C’s and I don’t mean ‘cheese’

A client recently wrote to me as he works his way through his personal journey of establishing a relationship with his adult child. He explained that he discovered that he had a lot of anger inside and that he now realised that this was preventing him from establishing loving relationships with others and also affecting his work performance. He also noted that he felt there was a little bit of depression there inside as well. I congratulated him for his courage and compassion because that is what it takes to be a loving human being, courage and compassion. They are also the most essential characteristics of being an emotionally intelligent human being.

The ‘F’ word as a way of life

As far as depression goes, it is one side of the same coin as anger. In men, depression very often manifests itself as anger. Perhaps related to this, a lot of men believe that to forgive is to be weak, which is unfortunate because the ability to forgive is crucial for developing any meaningful relationship. Forgiveness is not a religious thing or even a spiritual thing. It is a human thing that is absolutely vital to living a full loving life where a person feels free to give positively to other human beings. Imagine for a second being free to be kind to someone without fear that it will be seen as weakness!

Forgiveness begins with the individual forgiving themselves for their humanity. Forgiving oneself for being human and realising that being human means that you are going to make mistakes, you are going to hurt people you love.  And to realise that you can grow to be the best that you can be through this realisation and by committing to not repeating the same mistakes, hurts and pains. And realising that you will make other mistakes along the way and learn from them as well.

Reality is for all of us

Once you have forgiven yourself, you can then forgive others and then seek if you wish the forgiveness of others. It’s not a Utopian ideal, it’s the reality of being human. It’s the power that we have to create the lives we want for ourselves. It is the reality that even if you believe in reincarnation or an afterlife, that this is the life you have NOW and you have a responsibility to make the most of it. (Oh some of you are going to jump on that one).

So, if you work around people and are responsible for them in the workplace, remember there is absolutely no technical solution to emotional hurt, only forgiveness. To resolve conflict, there has to be forgiveness, not topical creams. Get people to forgive and that’s when relationships are built beyond the conflict and quite often lasting positive relationships where the people see each other as people.  Once people drop the religious relationship with this most powerful of actions and we start treating each other with the respect due to another person, we can get to building peaceful workplace and personal relationships.

Some people just don’t want to

Yes, some people just don’t want to forgive themselves and others for the pain, hurt and mistakes they have caused. These people will go around creating conflict in their lives and try to draw people into their dramas. I personally stay away from these people after I have done my best to show them a different way of living their lives. In the workplace these people are a real challenge. I am reminded though of a story told to me by a mining superintendent, “I had this guy that everyone saw as a major problem transferred to my section. I didn’t want him either but thought to myself how would I feel if I was in his position? I decided to give him a go. I sat him down and told him that as far as I was concerned he was starting a fresh start with me and I would stand by him if he would stand by me. We spoke a lot over the coming weeks and months and I got to know him really well. I gave him a go with a clean slate and he has now been working with me for 10 years and is my best worker.” Sometimes people just need someone to believe in them.

My advice? Embrace the train-wrecks that will ensue when you start dealing with the emotions behind the conflict. Some see the train wrecks, I see the beauty of being human.

Written by Allan. Posted in Workplace & Personal Relationships

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Hi, I'm Allan, the Director of Beyond IQ Pty Ltd. My goal is to provide you with insightful and thought provoking material. I hope to inspire you to start or join the discussion below and to keep coming back. I believe that conversation will inevitably lead to a greater truth, and I want you to be a part of it. Get to know me a little better. Find me on Facebook, add me to your circle on Google+ or join my professional network on LinkedIn

Comments (1)

  • serioustrouble
    March 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm |

    Great advice! But what about those people who really don’t want to get the other person’s point of view, or forgive? Or who want to be right all the time and dominate? Some of us have those folk in our workplaces and managers who have less spine than a jellyfish when it comes to resolving conflict. Treating each other like fellow human beings I’m sure would work in these situations, but doesn’t that sentiment have to come from the people actually in conflict? And if both people are being pig-headed (which seems to me to be part of their nature) where do you start? I guess I’m saying I think some peole really are a lost cause (though it pains me to say that, and I hope I’m not right), and that these people will take their conflicts, kicking and screaming to the grave and that’s where it will end (because there is no afterlife 🙂

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