This week, I´ve been focusing on a new book called The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict in which lead authors Jim Ferrell and Duane Boyce of The Arbinger Institute examine the ways that people deny a truthfulness that can help them pinpoint the origins of conflict. If you´ve ever experienced conflict in the workplace (who hasn´t?) or in your personal life, then you´re likely to learn something from the principles set forth in the book. Here´s part two of an interview with the authors:
Q: Sometimes bad behavior at work-from good and bad employees-is easily ignored. Managers and owners have too many other things to do and can´t be bothered by behavioral issues. Unfortunately, they lose sight of the big, bottom line and neglect to make a connection between business conflicts and revenue. What´s the first step toward addressing this "head in the sand" stance?
A: There are two steps, really. The first is to get the relevant managers to consider any one conflict and to identify all the problems associated with it. These will no doubt include lost time, wasted energy, plummeting morale, turnover, extra meetings, lost opportunities, extended cycle time for decision-making, loss of productivity, errors in judgment, errors in production, and so on. The second step is to ask those managers to assign an annual cost to all of this disruption: What does it cost to lose people and to hire and train others? What does it cost to take a month to make a decision that could have been made in one afternoon? What does it cost when a customer goes elsewhere because quality is poor or reaction time is slow? What does it cost when a decision-maker acts out of spite (this happens) rather than out of concern for the best results? And so on. I´ve conducted this analysis many times. In small organizations the cost is in the thousands and tens of thousands. In large organizations the cost is in the millions and billions. In either case, it´s a cost that is sucked directly from the bottom line. What organization wouldn´t like to have some of that back?
Q: Why is it so hard for people to stand back and try to identify their own roles in conflict? It´s like saying, "My kid would never try alcohol in her teenage years." There are some things we can never be sure of, especially when it comes to human foibles. Can you please elaborate?
A: Why is it so hard to identify our own roles in conflict? That´s precisely the problem faced by Lou in our book. He´s surrounded by conflict both at home and at work, and he thinks it´s all because of others. If they would only change, everything would be okay! The truth, of course, is that Lou is part of every problem he has, and he just can´t see it. Here´s why. Whenever we are embedded in conflict we are to some degree mistreating others. Now, whenever we mistreat others we begin to see them in a way that justifies our mistreatment of them. We exaggerate their faults, we see them as less than they are, we see them as deserving whatever we have done to them-in short, we see them as objects. Now they, of course-being in conflict with us-see us the same way and mistreat us. So what do we do? We now point at their behavior as further justification for ours!
This illustrates why we can´t see our own role in conflicts, and why Lou couldn´t see his: (1) We are justifying ourselves by blaming others for the way we have mistreated them; (2) they respond by mistreating us in return; which (3) just gives us proof that we are justified in blaming them! From our perspective, other than being a victim we have no role in the conflict. So what´s to see?
Next time: part three