Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Conflict Management – Is it Always the Other Person’s Fault?

I’ve written about Conflict Management before, about how easy it is to avoid and yet the repercussions of avoidance can be really harmful.

Today I want to talk about blame.  In my experience conflict and blame go hand in hand.  When something is amiss and disagreement flares, it’s generally the other person’s fault.

People seem to be incredibly adept at blaming someone else rather than seeing if they have contributed to the situation in any way.  I suppose that’s human nature; no one really wants to admit they created or contributed to a conflict they’re in the middle of.  That might lead to having to make an apology and oh boy, apologies are hard.

Blaming is so much easier; it gets you off the hook and focuses attention elsewhere.

The problem with blame is that it rarely creates a path toward resolution.  We’ve said it many times at Impact Factory, that the purpose of conflict is resolution.  If conflict exists for any other reason then it’s more about power, proving someone else is wrong while you are right, selfish gain, humiliating or even destroying your opposition.

This is true in work conflicts, family conflicts and global conflicts:  the stakes might be different but the driving forces are the same.  You can sit around and blame and nothing shifts other than reinforcing your certainties or you can head towards resolution by taking blame and the often the subsequent desire for revenge out of the equation.

How do I do that? I hear you ask.

Blame is fed by lots of emotions particularly when something goes wrong:  there’s the distress of whatever the mistake was, the concern over the knock-on effects, the anger that there’s now a problem when there wasn’t one before and the fear that you might be in the firing line.  That’s why the first knee-jerk reaction is to fault someone else rather than take responsibility (or even partial responsibility) for the situation and this fault-finding creates conflict.

If both ‘sides’ are doing the blaming than conflict can seem intractable.  If you want to find a solution then someone has to budge.

Believe it or not, this is a habit you can train yourself to take on. 

Start simple:  if you catch yourself making even a tiny mistake, let other people know.  My favourite phrase when I’m in the office is, “Oh oh, I think I just screwed up.”  That alerts others that there’s a cock-up that will need to be sorted and it makes me look human. 

Progress to bigger issues.  Small mistakes are usually easily rectifiable; it’s the bigger ones that can create conflict, especially when you start to point fingers at other people.  When the next larger problem arises, see if you can hold your tongue while you get to the bottom of the problem.  Ask others if they can unpick what happened; reflect back what you’ve heard and see if you can leave out the emotion you may be feeling inside. 

Involve others in finding the solution.  One reason why blaming and conflict are so tricky is that people retreat to their corners to lick their wounds and justify their behaviour.  One way to pre-empt that happening is to get everyone who is impacted by the problem involved in finding a solution.  Then no one person is holding all the responsibility and everyone will feel they’ve contributed to managing the setback.

Managing Conflict takes practise. If we were all good at it, life would be much calmer and quieter.  It isn’t.  If you want less conflict in your life begin your practise with less blaming, less criticising, less accusing.

You will also get a reputation for being someone who isn’t afraid to tackle difficult scenarios which can only be a good thing.


Check out Impact Factory’s range of Conflict Management and Assertiveness courses.


By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

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