Does a crisis make us forget about workplace conflict?


Planning workplace culture after the pandemic

Help there’s a crisis! We responded to the coronavirus pandemic by packing up our necessities and moving back home!  And there we sat, trying to adapt to a temporary hiccough in the greater scheme of our everyday lives, a little like Tom Hanks in “Castaway” only with far more electronic connectivity and only some of us talking to basketballs.

Changes imposed on us by a crisis can result in conflict or can exacerbate existing conflict that has not been addressed effectively before a change (including a crisis). 

Having the ability to be involved in a change process helps minimise conflict. When we have time, we are able to plan and commit to the journey but when it is thrust upon us by an external force or incident, then we have less time to think about what we need to take with us through that change or what we need to leave behind in order to get ahead or to cope.

Adapting and dealing with conflict imposed by change, depends on how the crisis has affected each of us

We have all been experiencing the same events from different perspectives when it comes to the current pandemic health restrictions, travel restrictions, socialising and major event restrictions and working from home arrangements.

Some of us have developed a new appreciation for, and connection with our communities. Families are discovering the joys or downfalls of spending extended periods of time together in confinement. 

Leaders have been inundated with advice and tips on how to manage teams remotely, facilitate work health and safety arrangements for team members working from home and how to manage and maintain contact via a variety of media platforms not previously utilised to their fullest. 

But there has been little discussion about how we can and should deal with existing conflict and any new conflict as a result of the crisis. 

What will our next change (“the journey back”) be like?

How much baggage of unresolved conflict will we be carrying back into our workplaces? 

The excitement or trepidation is building about the journey back. But back to what? What will our new “normal, everyday” look like when restrictions are slowly lifted.

Let’s just have a quick check-in with what was happening just before everything changed.

  • How were team dynamics working before the crisis?
  • Was there any friction?
  • Were there any unresolved or unaddressed differences of opinion?
  • Were there any performance issues simmering?

If there was unresolved conflict before COVID, are you planning to manage it post COVID?

So leaders, how do you like to manage conflict or simmering unrest? Do you hope that ignoring it will encourage the people concerned to “work it out” and let it go? If it involves you, how do you address it constructively so that it builds rather than breaks team motivation? 

Staff in isolation may now have a different perspective on pre-pandemic workplace environments

While people have been isolated, they may have developed different perspectives in relation to unresolved conflicts depending on their own conflict management skills and values. This could include:

  • They will not have thought about it at all – out of sight/out of mind.
  • They may have given it some thought and decided it was not worth the time and effort to waste any more energy on it.
  • They may have spent a great deal of time while in isolation, replaying scenarios in their mind and giving the issues greater gravitas.
  • They may have been thrilled at the break from the stress and tension but now be building fear and dread of how to deal with the issues when they are again in the company of the person they were in conflict with.

What do we do about it?

  • Think about who you will need to talk to.
  • How will you raise subjects without reigniting any issues that have been forgotten?
  • How will you quickly address any issue that may have grown through isolation and stop that growth?
  • Who do you need to support you, in addressing conflict?

Then prioritise and plan your conversations so that those experiencing conflict are heard and supported in dealing with concerns. 

To access support, conflict coaching or help for yourself or your team, contact Blackforrest Consulting. We offer a complimentary “Let’s disrupt this conflict” discussion as you prepare for the end of COVID-19 restrictions and the return to your new normal at work.

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