Offense Builds a Fence


fenceWorkplace conflict.  It happens all too often.

Things are said that shouldn’t be said.  Things are done that shouldn’t be done.   Perhaps it’s things that really should’ve been said that weren’t, or things that should’ve been done that weren’t.

Regardless, when you put people together there’s going to be conflict.  Oftentimes, the “conflict” looks more like a gradual withdrawing to limit interaction and the potential for further pain.

Let’s be honest, the root of most conflict is pain.  Someone’s been hurt.  Call it disrespected, embarrassed, alienated, isolated, demeaned, diminished – whatever you want – it hurt.  If someone’s angry, anger is typically not the issue.  Anger is often a dash light indicating there are deeper issues “under the hood”.

At the root of the anger you will regularly dig up hurt.

However, admitting someone hurt us is very difficult to do – especially for a man.  Somehow it smacks of weakness.  It says that the other person is more powerful than I am.  So, to get a man to admit he was hurt by someone is tough.  That’s why most men cover up hurt with anger.

When hurt, we can get offended.  Offense builds a fence, and fences isolate.

Unresolved workplace conflict has a significant impact on productivity.  People in conflict with co-workers actually begin to dread coming to work.  There can be a preoccupation throughout the day with thoughts about the person and the conflict.  A lack of focus on work tasks and responsibilities has a significant impact on productivity.

Unresolved workplace conflict is bad for business.

Resolution is only possible if both parties are willing to own what they need to own and participate in the resolution.  There are always 2 sides to every conflict.  Humility is critically important because it enables each party to recognize that theirs is not the only perspective on the conflict.

There is a process that occurs when someone hurts us, offends us, or makes us angry:

Hurt – False Belief – Agreement – Vow – False Self

In the midst of the “hurt” we form a “false belief” about the offending person.  It could be something like, “They don’t like me.  They don’t respect me.  They don’t value me.  They think I’m stupid.  They’re an idiot.  They’re a useless leader.”, etc.

We immediately make an “agreement” with that belief: we think it must be true because of what we’ve just experienced.  And now, every interaction with that person is filtered through this belief – which causes our belief about them to deepen and we become entrenched in this mindset.  We can even begin anticipating this kind of interaction and all communications are tainted with this perspective.

We then make a “vow”: if this false belief is true then, “I will not engage with them.  I’ll tell everyone what an idiot they are.  I’m going to quit.  I’m going to fire them.  I’ll withdraw and not expose myself to anymore pain.”, etc.

These decisions lead us to become someone less than our best.  We can often become our worst self and not our best self.  So, how do we make the shift to be our best self with the offending person?

If we want to be at our best we must take responsibility for our own actions and beliefs.  If we’re offended with someone, the fence we build isolates us.  Our offense actually imprisons us. The beginning of our own freedom is forgiveness.  We must choose to forgive, even if the offending person never owns what they did.

Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves – it sets us free.

We must then break the agreement with the false beliefs and choose to believe the best about the offending person.  Stop the negative narrative we’ve playing over and over again in our mind.  Then choose to be our best toward this person.

It’s a reset, a do over.

There can be complicated conflicts requiring the intervention of a supervisor, or a mediator, but if you can nip an initial offense in the bud before it festers, you are far better off for it.

We must recognize that our offense builds a fence that isolates us.  We tear down that fence with forgiveness.

What fences do you need to tear down?

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