Who’s who in the Conflict Zoo
Call it organisational conflict, office politics, or just plain drama, but few of us enjoy disagreement or confrontation, at work or elsewhere. In fact, many of us spend a significant portion of our time and energy avoiding it.
“I don’t know how to handle the office politics,” many people say. “I don’t like politics, why can’t people just get on with the job? I don’t like all this conflict.”
Unfortunately, although we don’t like to hear this, none of us can or should avoid organisational or any other conflict. We don’t have to play political games ourselves, but we should understand the conflict that leads people to play those games. Conflict cannot be avoided, but it can be managed and resolved.
I have attended a couple of conflict resolution workshops over the years and one of the interesting things I came across was the use of animal characteristics to illustrate how we, as human beings, handle conflict (adapted from the late Anne Hope and Sally Timmel).
As I reflected over these conflict management styles, I can safely say that my dominant style is a mouse. Sometimes I will be the lion and fight, but that is easily given up when I discover people strongly disagree with my opinions — then I am ready to concede.
When others are unreasonable or too strongly opinionated to have an open mind, I just think: “What’s the point of arguing?” But when I am unshakeable in my principle, I will stay until the bitter end.
On the animal conflict styles, where do you fall?
Donkey: Very stubborn, and refuses to change his or her point of view. I have a relative or two who fall into this category, and I can think of a few other acquaintances as well.
Elephant: Blocks the way, and stubbornly prevents the group from continuing along the road they desire to go. This helps nobody, because no one is moving.
Lion: Gets in and fights whenever others disagree with their plans or interferes with their desires.
Rabbit: Runs away as soon as it senses tension, conflict or any unpleasant job. This sometimes may mean switching quickly to another topic.
Ostrich: Buries its head in the sand and refuses to face reality or admit there is any problem at all. I can think of some of our politicians who really are like ostriches at this time.
Chameleon: Changes colour according to the people he or she is with. Will say one thing to this group and something else to another. Very common with politicians standing for election!
Owl: Looks very solemn and pretends to be very wise, always talking in long words and complicated sentences.
Mouse: Timid and does not always speak up.
Monkey: Fools around, chatters, and prevents the group from concentrating on serious business. Tries to bring some lightness to the day, but also gets the group nowhere.
Giraffe: Holds the head up high and says: “This is far beneath me…”
Sometimes conflict is about egos and personalities. That is lamentable and a reason why most people do not want to get involved.
But when conflict is about real business or organisational issues, it deserves our attention. At those times it is really helpful to understand the different styles of handling conflict — and for us to understand what’s our dominant style, or styles.
Which style would be the most appropriate to use? Sometimes more than one style needs to be used as the conflict unfolds and a resolve is being worked out.
I hope that you are ready for whatever conflict is coming your way — but I hope not too soon.