Practice Example // Personal Protection

Conflict: There are always two versions of the truth

There’s no question about it, the coronavirus pandemic has been a stressful situation for many people. This is evident, for example, from conflicts in the workplace. These conflicts usually have basic causes. Gerburg Lutter, mediator and certified social pedagogue from Kiel, Germany, talks about how to recognize what’s behind the conflicts and how to deal with these situations in a better way.

Is there anything we need to know in order to be better prepared for conflict situations at work?

Interpersonal conflicts are first of all characterized by contrasting thoughts, desires and feelings between two people or groups. That being said, it’s not the differences themselves that create the conflict, but the following two aspects: Do the people involved accept that these differences exist and is there a general willingness to face these differences in an open and constructive way?

What are the general signs of a conflict?

Zwischenmenschliche Konflikte sind zunächst einmal durch Unterschiede im Denken, Wollen und Fühlen zwischen zwei Menschen oder Gruppen gekennzeichnet. Doch nicht die Unterschiede an sich machen den Konflikt, sondern folgende zwei Aspekte: Gibt es für die bestehenden Unterschiede eine Akzeptanz und gibt es eine generelle Bereitschaft, diesen Unterschieden offen und konstruktiv zu begegnen?

How do the factors of differences, acceptance and willingness relate to each other and how does this play into conflicts?

To make this clear, I’ve put this into two simple formulas with plus and minus signs. Difference is always a factor in these:

Difference + acceptance + willingness = absence of conflict is possible.

Difference – acceptance – willingness = there is a risk of conflict.

This clearly shows that difference is the main characteristic, but does not necessarily always lead to conflict breaking out. It is rather a question of how people choose to deal with this difference.

Can there also be physical reactions to conflict?

Yes, we all already know three of the reactions to conflict: Fight, flight or shock. Simply put, the brain can switch to “danger mode” during conflicts. Then we react automatically from the limbic system, one of the most primitive areas of the brain. The brain switches to survival mode and controls the supply to the muscle and cardiovascular system. The body reacts instinctively as “thinking” is left in the background.

Fight: Aggression and threatening gestures in volume and posture.

Flight: Run out of the room and slam the door behind you.

Shock: You feel as if you are stuck, unable to move and think.

This also explains why it’s only afterwards that we often realize what we should have said or how we might have acted differently.

So, the differences and physical reactions apply to all conflicts. What else is typical for professional conflicts?

In the professional context we act out of our professional role. The issue of role is so important because many professional conflicts arise from unresolved roles. As a hygiene specialist, for example, I have an understanding of how to act in this role. In addition to this concept of oneself, there are also the expectations that my superiors and colleagues have of my role. Sometimes your own understanding of roles and responsibilities on the one hand and the expectations your superiors have on the other hand clash – this is often not discussed at all and then leads to conflicts.

How can we avoid these conflicts around understanding our roles?

It all comes down to taking the time to clearly coordinate tasks and expectations as this is important. So it’s helpful to clearly clarify with your superiors what you’re responsible for and what your tasks are. You need to know what to do and what not to do in your role. Clarifying expectations is crucial when it comes to avoiding role conflicts. In situations of crisis and pressure, the time factor is a scarce commodity. However, it’s precisely in these kinds of situations that clarifying roles in advance can effectively save time, as energy losses which are caused by misunderstandings do not occur.

Are there any personal conflict strategies that prove helpful in these situations?

You should consider the following points when looking to resolve conflict: There are always two versions of the truth. The truth is never simple or one-sided. There are different points of view and there is at least always a second, third or fourth truth. So if you have a point of view that you can support with good arguments, you can still be open to the perhaps opposite point of view advocated by your counterpart. If you want to solve a conflict constructively, being willing to listen to and understand your counterpart helps. It’s important to remember that you can understand the other person without having to agree with them.

But how do you arrive at a solution when you have two different points of view?

If both people accept that the other has a different point of view, you can then move on and find common ground in spite of your differences. And people can often find ways of doing this without having to harmonize positions. Points of view then become starting points for something new. This constructiveness often results in something that didn’t exist before the conflict. And often this is more than just the lazy compromise, but really leads to something great.

Ms. Lutter, thanks for speaking with us.

More articles:
„Hygiene in context with Corona“
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