‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ Who hasn’t trotted out this old platitude to encourage themselves or someone else to tough it out, hang in there or generally put up and shut up? Well, guys – listen up, we were wrong!
Conflict resolution is a hot topic in business right now and who better to discuss it than Helena Cornelius, doyenne of conflict resolution and co-author/co-founder with Shoshana Faire of Everyone Can Win and the Conflict Resolution Network.
According to Cornelius, there is little data evaluating the cost to Australian business of unresolved conflict, but she believes we are living through particularly testing times. “People are very scared for their jobs and livelihood. It’s extremely stressful and we lash out. It’s very important that we cut each other some slack.”
Good advice considering the results of unresolved conflict in the workplace.
According to The Centre for Conflict Resolution International, these include: stress, anxiety, loss of sleep, strained relationships, grievances and litigation, presenteeism, employee turnover, loss of productivity, increased client complaints, absenteeism, sabotage, injury and accidents, disability claims and sick leave. It also highlights a study demonstrating that 42 percent of a manager’s time is spent dealing with conflict. (Leadership Quarterly, 1996).
Identifying a problem is one thing, dealing with it quite another. But for Andrew Staniforth of Life in Flight Training, it’s all in a day’s work. After more than 20 years in the airline industry working in roles ranging from ground-based training and development positions to managing customer service for international and domestic flights, Staniforth is used to negotiating under pressure. Building on his experiences in the skies, he’s developed a conflict resolution programme, ‘Attitude at Altitude’. It’s designed to help train land-based executives to manage discord in the workplace.
“Something extraordinary happens when people board a flight. The pressurised environment of an aircraft cabin brings out people’s personalities and character traits and amplifies them. This makes humanity at altitude so interesting.”
‘Interesting’ is one word for it. Probably not the word I’d use if I had to ask a Prime Minister to turn off his mobile phone. Staniforth has done just that and says it’s only one example of a tricky situation that can arise for airline crew.
When I caught up with Staniforth he was happy to share what 18 years, ten million kilometres, 30,000 colleagues, five million passengers and 15,000 hours on planes can teach you about life.
Here are his top tips for resolving conflict:
- Focus on principles over personalities. It is impossible to argue with someone who will not take things personally. Remaining focused on principles and objectives eventually achieves the best possible outcomes.
- Avoid playing your ace card first. Resolving conflict is about finding a solution that considers and respects the needs of all parties. It isn’t about winning and playing your ace card, e.g. ‘I’m the boss’, doesn’t impress anyone.
- Avoid assumptions based on little fact or evidence. This can be a very turbulent route to fly should you be proven wrong. Gathering facts and information is the key to understanding.
- Allow people to take responsibility for their behaviour. This is the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t.
- Ask questions. Gathering facts through specific questions and careful listening helps you decide on the best course of action and encourages the other party to find their own answers.
Change perspective. Considering things from a different point of view, even if you disagree, shows respect and tolerance.
Persephone Nicholas is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Weekend Australian newspaper. She is particularly interested in career and workplace issues and also writes about travel and lifestyle.