Conflict Resolution - From The Soccer Field to The Office

Junior soccer - it’s only a game right? The children are there to have fun, keep fit and learn what it is to be a good sport. Only sometimes parents forget and this time last year, it all got rather out of hand. Not in a “Call the police" type of way, but certainly in a reportable incident type of way. It was a fresh and sunny early morning and two all-girl teams were gently battling it out on the pitch.

Throughout the game, one of the parents was pretty vocal but it was aimed at his own child. The problem was that the opposition thought he was being aggressive towards their players. At half time, the umpire approached the parent and without discussion, warned him off and demanded he stop abusing the players. Naturally, the parent defended himself and tried to explain. Despite some finger waving by the umpire, the parent by and large remained calm but energy was building as he stressed that they’d got it all wrong. They girls played on and before we knew it the final whistle blew and we were ready to go home. But it wasn’t over.

A club official barrelled across the pitch towards us, chest puffed. What ensued was a verbal vomit of abuse towards the parent, more finger pointing and plenty of invading of personal space with chests. No fisty-cuffs but certainly an awful display of aggression by adults in front of children, that was unlikely to have a positive outcome.

Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour is not limited to the sporting pitch. It's rife in the workplace and in our team development workshops we hear jaw-dropping stories of unnecessary and frankly, unprofessional, conflict. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all for conflict and actually spend a lot of time in our corporate team building workshops, encouraging participants to have more of it - the healthy kind. So where did the guys on the soccer pitch go wrong? One - They didn’t check their own emotional state before heading into an interaction so unrestrained emotion was determining the outcome. Two - they were reactive and didn’t think about the appropriate time or place for the discussion. Three - they, made assumptions and spent no time fact checking before they acted.

To be an effective employee, manager or leader in the workplace it’s imperative we:

  • have enough self-awareness and emotional intelligence to ensure we stay in control of our emotions rather than be at the mercy of them

  • learn to choose whether to react and deal with an emerging situation there and then or mark it in our minds to deal with it later at a better time and in a more appropriate place

  • stay curious. This last one is key. Curiosity means we are less likely to jump to conclusions. Curiosity means we are more likely to be open to realising we’ve got it wrong and to seeing different perspectives. Starting conversations with curious questioning rather than accusations or presentation of perceived ‘facts’, means that a lot of the time the conflict and the need to develop solid conflict resolution skills can be avoided all together.

These things come naturally to some but for many are learned skills that take effort, practice and a willingness to be vulnerable and make mistakes. Strategic Career Management works with organisations to design and deliver tailored team development workshops that help people build emotional intelligence, self-management and communication skills and learn ways to minimise unhealthy conflict in the workplace. These team building workshops are beneficial both at the individual level and at the organisational level and unlock one of the secrets to taking careers and businesses to the next level. It’s a win-win kind of game.