Vol. 7, Issue 3
December 2009

Welcome to the Working Dynamics Newsletter. Our goal is to highlight how we can communicate more effectively to have stronger work relationships and manage conflict constructively in the workplace.

I hope you'll find our suggestions useful and contact us when we can help.
Susan Gunn
Working Dynamics
How We Became Better Conflict Solvers in 2009

Let's face it - 2009 was a breathtaking year. For many, it was a struggle to survive this year whether actively employed or not. While the focus may have been more work, better work, a more impressive bottom line, greater pay, security, and the like, something else was happening without our realizing it. We were developing skills - real skills that not only make us competitive overall, but more competent in managing conflict.
Who knew at the beginning that we would be honing our conflict competency? It makes sense though. With all struggles, come self-awareness and growth. Think about the gains you made this year. In particular, think about five specific areas of challenge and likely growth this year that not only served you well, but happen to be vital core competencies in managing conflict:
  1. creativity
  2. adaptability
  3. constructive confrontation
  4. sensitivity to others
  5. understanding 


I can't count the number of times this year clients and colleagues commented to me they had to go about their work in a different way -- the same strategies no longer worked. You could hear energy and awe as they related the challenges that no longer responded to tried-and-true approaches and examples of new solutions they had devised.
Interestingly, creative thinking is a transferable skill to conflict situations, especially when conflict partners work together to create solutions. Don't hesitate to draw on the curiosity and creativity that enabled you to switch gears this year and draw on that experience when your view is at odds with that of a colleague, team member, or boss.


I've been truly inspired by clients, colleagues, and friends' perseverance and optimism in the face of real fear and dejection. The fuel for this has been their flexibility, hope, and a willingness to take advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. It was a joy to witness such adaptability and risk. Watching it emerge was stunning. 
How about you? Where did you exhibit your adaptability? What were instances when you witnessed this skill in others? Can you see how useful this skill is when conflict enters the equation?

constructive confrontation

"Sitting on the sidelines," "keeping the peace," and "not making waves" might have been acceptable in the past, but "staying under the radar" or maintaining the status quo didn't work this year. There wasn't any room for passivity or inactivity. In fact, the thinking seemed to be "when on the brink, what is there to lose?" This year spawned a "sink-or-swim" mentality that resulted in new ventures, new approaches, and new experiences. Often, that new thinking carried over into personal relationships too. What seemed tolerable before wasn't acceptable any longer. We examined relationships and confronted those that were draining to make a place for those that were supportive and nurturing. 
When we constructively confront conflict, it is in many of the ways you constructively confronted business problems this year. You weigh the pros and cons, assess how you feel about the situation, and take the appropriate action. You've probably experienced the positive effects of taking action and waged your own war on problem avoidance. It feels good to confront a problem constructively. Where did you confront a difficult situation this year? Why had you avoided taking action in the past? What did you tell yourself that kept you moving forward? What did you do well and where could you improve next time? 

sensitivity toward others

To survive, today's workplace saves very little room for people who focus primarily on themselves and not the team. Yes, there are still some self-centered people out there trying to make a "know it all" or "always have to be right" attitude work, but not successfully. Instead, having an awareness of others' needs and demonstrating sensitivity help ensure success today.
Reflect on times where you've shared information to help someone do their job better, where you've given a lead to someone in hopes they'll benefit, where you've admitted a mistake that hurt someone else in some way, and where you've made it easier for someone to participate or shine. Imagine how this shift from thinking of our selves to thinking of others will help when we're involved in a clash of ideas or, better yet, when we are embroiled in relationship conflict. 


We've all been reflecting on our strengths and what we can do to emerge stronger, but we can't help but be humbled by the world around us. We see first-hand, and almost daily hear, stories of others and their accounts of loss, courage, endurance, and struggle. Yet, our powers of understanding are not stronger by this awareness alone, but with the ability to show empathy for others developed primarily through listening and seeing things from the perspective of others. 
Correlating the importance of the skill or competency of understanding to conflict is easy. It is critical to understand your conflict partner's perspective, to become aware of new information, to find new ways to interpret information, to increase your knowledge base, and to let the other person feel you understand and are taking his or her concerns seriously. Understanding another's point of view in conflict situations paves the way for such constructive means of conflict resolution as criticizing constructively, taking action, cooperating, creating solutions, and repairing emotions. What have been the personal and professional consequences of listening for you? How do you go about understanding what someone wants? How do you battle your assumptions in order to remain open-minded? How do you maintain your emotional balance as you seek to understand others you disagree with?


This is an ideal time for looking not only at what we accomplished over the past year, but what we learned while doing it. You've most likely ended this year with amazing strengths and skills that will give you tremendous pride and satisfaction and be a brilliant foundation to you in the coming year.
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Thank you!
About the Publisher
Susan Gunn is president of Working Dynamics, a Richmond, VA, consulting firm. Working Dynamics provides a full range of assessment, development programs, and conflict management services for organizations in business, government, and nonprofit sectors to reach their goals using conflict in its most productive forms. Learn more at  
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
-- Plato

"The aim of argument or discussion, should not be victory, but progress."
-- Joseph Joubert
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."
-- Stephen Covey

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