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A Framework For Interpersonal Conflict

The Quick Summary

Interpersonal conflict is an unavoidable part of work. While teaching soft skills in general can help, having a tangible framework for navigating such conflicts can work wonders. Some solutions were made for resolving issues at work, while others are meant for deeper relationships building. Either way, having the skills and structure to effectively manage conflicts helps everyone.

For the full story, keep reading.


Work Involves Interpersonal Conflict

For most people, work means having to communicate and collaborate with other people. It means having to mingle with a (hopefully) diverse group of peers. While some thrive in such an environment, this daily need can be an exhausting challenge for others. This is especially true when conflicts arise. From arguments to emotional outbursts, things can get heated and even simple requests can become difficult to navigate.

Even when things are relatively calm, everyone has a different level of tolerance for perceived conflict. If a voice is raised in excitement, I may take it as anger. If my collected calm leads to a sigh, you may perceive annoyance. Understanding how to navigate interpersonally is one of life's greatest challenges that all of us are still learning the nuances of.

So, how can we better acknowledge these gaps and work on our skills together?

Frameworks For Navigating Conflict

I used to struggle terribly with conflict of any kind. I was prone to shutting down, giving up, and giving in. That was until I experienced Holacracy. Holacracy's many rules and structures provided a framework for dealing with the problems we have all experienced in company meetings.

More specifically, the process for facilitating governance meetings provided a lot of insight. Experienced practitioners would understand to focus on one agenda item at a time, figuring out what the real single root problem was (or "tension" in Holacracy lingo). It focused on a turns-based method of getting everyone's input while constantly redirecting back to the original problem. Finally, there was room to negotiate if problems would be caused so that new problems wouldn't be created by solving the old problems. Holacracy calls this "integration".

Done well, it works absolute wonders. However, if you focus too much on the rules and not enough on the intent, it can become a robotic and bureaucratic process that confuses people just as much as it deters them. These skills can even be used outside the workplace to improve how you deal with problem-solving and conflicts. This takes a unique skill, though, as you need to strip any Holacracy language out for peers to understand if they don't also practice Holacracy.

What other frameworks might help in a broader context?


Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy meant to help individuals with personality disorders deal with interpersonal conflicts. However, the lessons within are incredibly useful for even the neurotypical. One such tool taught within DBT is the DEAR MAN skill. Much like DBT itself and many aspects of it, DEAR MAN is also an acronym, with each letter corresponding to a different important step of the process.

Rather than breaking down the entire system, I will provide resources to those who are far more experienced and qualified than I. Most notably, a short podcast explaining it and a one-page worksheet detailing the steps.

The DEAR MAN framework holds many similarities to systems like the aforementioned Holacracy integration process. It ensures individuals' voices are heard, needs are met, and boundaries are respected. Whether you are talking to your spouse, your coworker, or your boss, this process helps you get what you need in a way that makes peer-to-peer relationships thrive.

These more in-depth skills can help all of us interact with one another in a more healthy, respectful way. Instead of watering down our needs out of fear of retaliation, we can all say no when we need to and get what we need without causing harm to anyone else. Those are the skills that any organization would love it's people to possess.


What Now?

If your organization doesn't have an explicit framework for dealing with interpersonal conflicts, we recommend making that a priority. Enabling a path for colleagues to solve problems with one another in a safe way can have a tremendous impact on the psychological safety and the efficiency of those within your organization. Need help creating such a system or finding an off-the-shelf solution? Hit us up!

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