Conflict is not all bad. Hear us out: addressing conflict has the potential to improve relationships, deepen understanding, boost confidence and enhance trust.
Conflict can be more intuitive to embrace when it’s someone else’s cause. We do this as parents, friends or managers. That’s what makes conflict the good fight.
But we are often more reluctant about standing up for ourselves. That has to change. It is important to stand your ground, especially if you’re part of a marginalized group.
The three types of conflict
Every fight is not the same size, so pick your armour accordingly. If you don’t find a way to distribute your attention, you risk burning out. We defined the three broad categories of verbal conflict within the realm of DEI:
This could be a slur, a judgement or any type of harassment based entirely on one’s identity. Anything in the “go back to your country” vein is an example of this category.
It can be hard to respond in the moment because of disbelief someone could say such a thing, but it’s important to shut it down right away. An effective way to respond is to call the aggressor out for their words and disengage from the conversation.
This is where the offender might feel they get a free pass because they feel “times are changing too fast.” An example: “I just don’t know what <you people> call yourselves these days.”
This statement may not be as aggressive as the slur, but it is still lazy and offensive. It’s 2021, most of us have the internet 24/7. If you have time to binge watch streaming shows, you probably have time to educate yourself.
Another relevant workplace example: “I don’t see colour. [Insert company name] functions as a true meritocracy.”
There are two questions to reflect on before making blanket statements like that. One: do the qualifications to move up in the organization necessarily subordinate certain groups that are just not well represented? Two: are you balancing everybody’s chances to get that promotion, that leadership opportunity or that bonus? That is where equal has to give way to equitable in order to be fair.
Don’t make an MBA a necessary qualification for a job. It takes someone with privilege to be able to afford the $200,000 MBA, so if you go this route, you’re automatically confining your meritocracy to a very small percentage.
This is probably the most common occurrence of conflict, especially in workplaces today. Often based on judgements or bias, microaggressions are the paper cuts of conflict. One or two may be easy enough to brush off, but let it continue and the cumulative effect of those repetitive cuts could really sting. An example: asking the clichéd, “Got a chicken tikka recipe?” when you meet an Indian person. Just don’t do it. Wait until you’ve developed a relationship and established if they cook, eat meat or want to share recipes.
Saying something can be uncomfortable, but if you make it a teachable moment, you might prevent the same ignorant comment being directed at someone else.
Since ABCDEI is all about learning and unlearning, this is how we have unpacked the concepts we shared on our first episode into simple and actionable ideas:
- All conflict isn’t aggression. Conflict can sometimes be a necessary means to a desirable end state. So say something – quickly – before you are stinging from a thousand paper cuts. Preparing before addressing conflict is critical to make the conversation productive.
- Drop the defence. If someone gets offended by your words, just apologize. Don’t get defensive or try to justify what you said. Try to approach a micgroaggression or ignorant statement with empathy: put yourself into the other person’s shoes – even if you are the person who is not the aggressor. Use the moment to teach or reflect, depending on which side you are.
- Assumptions have consequences. We chatted in episode 1 about how mental shortcuts are human nature, but that they also lead to or perpetuate bias. So if your assumption or judgement about someone ends up offending them, take it in stride. Listen, reflect and unlearn, so you do better the next time around.
If you have found yourself wanting to unlearn but wondering where to even begin, or if you have a guest idea on the topic, get in touch. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in conflict and resolution,
Rohini + Susan