What if conflict was viewed as an opportunity to create better relationships, a better workplace?
Maybe this sounds like a story of apple pie and motherhood, but I have seen relationships transformed through mediation. Repeatedly.
The process of working through the mess of conflict can provide insight about ourselves and a deeper understanding and appreciation of the people with whom we work.
Theory U, developed by Otto Scharmer and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), offers a framework for approaching positive change and a useful way to look at conflict.
According to Theory U, we humans have choices to make about how we move through the world, choices that take us either along a U-shaped path of destruction or a path of co-creating.
These are daily choices.
Of course, most of us never choose to be on the path of destruction, but we get there sometimes because of our habits of thought and action. And the way to get on the path of co-creating is to be mindful and intentional. So, lets look at these paths and the choices we can make in relation to conflict.
The path of destruction begins with denial. This might look like: “Not me. I am fine. Fake news!” From denial, we move to de-sensing and absencing, where we close off and shut down. And then we deceive ourselves and others until we reach destruction. What keeps us on this path of destruction is a closed mind or ignorance, a closed heart or greed, and closed will or fear. Sound familiar?
In contrast, the path to co-creation begins with seeing, looking at the situation with fresh eyes. This requires curiosity and an open mind. From seeing, we move along the U to sensing, which asks us to be empathic, and brings us to presencing. When we are fully present with the new information and insight about self and other, we can move along the path to trying out new ways of interacting. We might come up with commitments for how we will talk to each other, or make promises to stop doing things that are annoying or hurtful. We exercise our good will towards each other, which enables us to co-create a new chapter of the relationship.
The next time you find yourself in a conflict or mediating the conflict of others, try on Theory U as an organizing framework for moving forward in a positive way.
Lead with curiosity to open your mind.
Ask: What can we learn? What new or different information can I take in? What assumptions am I making?
Flex your compassion muscle.
Allow compassion to eclipse judgment. Step into the “other’s” shoes.
Have the courage to do things differently.
Make an offer. Make a request. Try on a new way of being.
Guest blogger Lori Charvat is a Civil Roster mediator who focuses on workplace conflict, employee engagement, leadership development and change management. She is a Certified Executive Coach and a Prosci certified change management practitioner. Lori has a busy practice in Vancouver as principal of Sandbox Consulting.