When the pandemic first started, one of my HR colleagues noted that the “prickly” people in her organization seemed to be getting a bit pricklier. It made sense to me that the stress and uncertainty that we were experiencing back in 2020 would perhaps cause us all to be a little more short with each other, so I expected to see an increase in internal conflict.
Today, as I write this, many areas are removing mask mandates and other restrictions that have been in place for a year or more, and while no one thinks we’re going back to “normal,” it does feel like we’ve turned a corner. I hear a lot of people expressing a sense of relief. I feel it too. So does this mean the conflict will subside?
No. It’s increasing. In my twenty-year consulting career, I’ve never had this many people reaching out to me about internal conflict at the same time.
Here’s what I think is happening. Despite the positive direction of the pandemic numbers, uncertainty in the work world is on the rise. We’re not sure how many employees will be willing to return when the office reopens—or even if we need them to. We know in person is better than zoom, but we’re not even sure how much any more, so we don’t have a plan about what needs to be done in person versus virtually. And as agile and adaptive as we have been over the past year, we’ve been ignoring the fact that most organizational cultures are not very good at fixing things or stopping things that aren’t working, which means all that change has required an enormous amount of effort.
And we’re tired. I think we’re so tired that many of us are hitting a breaking point, and that “prickly” behavior from 2020 is now being replaced with more heavy duty conflict. If you ignore this, it is going to get much worse, very quickly. The ability to handle tough conflict conversations is now becoming table stakes for effective management. If your team can’t handle conflict, then there’s no way you can handle the uncertainty and change that is now part of “normal.”
We can help you in a number of ways. Last year I converted a training program that I had been delivering for many years (Managing Conflict with Confidence) into an online version. We can set that up for your team to be taken either on-demand, or combined with live Q&A sessions. I can also lead a direct intervention with a team that is suffering from ongoing conflict. Through a number of facilitated sessions, we’ll work through the key issues, and I’ll leave behind some tools/frameworks to help you deal with future issues. I also offer executive coaching on conflict for individuals (that can be done on its own, or in conjunction with the other projects).
If you want help with conflict, please reach out. This is not going to ease up over time. The new normal demands that you up your game around conflict.
Photo by Jr Korpa