Help Your Feeling Teammates Survive Workplace Conflict01 December 2015 / By Molly Owens Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on December 01, 2015
Does your teammate do everything in their power to avoid workplace conflict? Do they shy away from hostility and work hard to maintain positive, friendly relations? Would they never start a fight, not even if their career depended on it? If these traits sound familiar, you probably have a Feeling teammate.
Feelers are the archetypal conflict avoiders. They spend a lot of energy trying to safeguard people's thoughts and feelings and will happily "take one for the team" to avoid tension. Problem is, they could be just as responsible for workplace dysfunction as a confrontational, trigger-happy teammate. That's because conflict, done right, can encourage open-mindedness. Teams that avoid conflict may struggle to innovate and may remain closed off to new possibilities that might otherwise have been considered.
How do you help your Feeling teammates survive and thrive in the workplace battlefield? These three techniques should help.
Change the Language
Feelers are not passive but they will shy away from conflict rather than getting their own point across. This is not helpful. Everyone on the team is a potential resource. The harmony-loving Feeler could be a wealth of knowledge and have great ideas for reaching a positive solution to various workplace problems. So, not utilizing their talents is a waste.
The first step, then, is to help the Feeler realize that not every conflict has an emotional side. Substantive conflicts, also known as professional or cognitive conflicts, are characterized by an open debate about data, facts, processes or strategies. This type of conflict, unlike its dysfunctional cousin, the personal or affective conflict, focuses solely on outcomes for the organization. The aim is to get to the "hard truth" of a business problem and reach a productive outcome.
Separating the personal from the professional does not play to the Feeler's strengths. Their instinct will be to look at the human impact of a conflict. To draw them into the debate, you're going to have to change the language. For example, you could:
- Phrase the problem hypothetically - "If the sales team were asked to input monthly sales figures by 9am, would this enable the finance team to submit management reports by 4pm?" Speaking hypothetically takes the heat out of a conflict because it detaches the problem from the people.
- Speak in terms of togetherness - "Let's see if, together, we can identify ways to take some of the work from Sue and distribute it around the team." Using the word "together" emphasizes a team mentality. The Feeling teammate can feel confident that everyone's interests are being taken into account.
- Talk about the future - "In the future, we need to streamline the way these reports are prepared." Talking about the future indicates that the team is pulling together in a single direction. The Feeler will be assured that everyone is moving towards a common goal.
Changing the language is a simple tool, but it allows the Feeler to explore alternative positions without becoming too bogged down in how those positions might hurt someone's feelings.
No Single Version of the Truth
Another way to help Feelers survive conflict is to show them that there is no single version of the truth, just different people's experiences of it. It is not necessary for one person to be wrong in order for the other person to be right. The glass can be half full and half empty at the same time.
One useful conflict management tool is to name all the arguments as valid - the professional and the personal. Each partner in the debate is encouraged to say exactly what is worrying them, and those worries are regarded as being of equal importance. This is known as the acceptance method of conflict resolution. The idea is that everyone lays their cards on the table and is not judged for voicing their opinion. Participants can relax and enjoy going on a journey of exploration - Why is the other person worried about that? How on earth did they come to see the problem that way?
Acceptance-based conflict resolution is especially appealing to Feelers as it focuses on formulating a solution that leaves relationships intact. Feelers will be assured that no one is being hurt, silenced or shut down simply because their conflict partner has different needs.
Talk About the Impact of Actions
Feelers have an intrinsic need to see harmony restored as soon as possible after a conflict event. Like training a muscle, you can strengthen a Feeler's tolerance for conflict by demonstrating that reconciliation is possible - and that the conflict partners can come out stronger as a result.
If the Feeler reports to you, it's easy to schedule an appointment and ask how they feel after a conflict, and what can be done to help them feel better about the situation. If the Feeler is a co-worker, then it's a good idea to meet in an informal environment and ask whether they are upset by something that has been said or done. With either approach, it's important to establish that the cause of the conflict is less important than how the conflict was progressed and resolved. Were the conflict partners clear about what they wanted? Did what was said and done move the parties closer or further away from what they wanted to happen? Is everyone genuinely OK, or do steps need to be taken to safeguard someone's feelings?
The better you are at debriefing, the more likely it is that the Feeler will be willing to participate in the next workplace conflict.
And who knows? They might even begin to look forward to the process as a way of helping the team move towards its common goals.