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NEWS | Nov. 18, 2013

What about the elephant in the room?

By Toby Housey 628th Air Base Wing Equal Opportunity office

Have you ever worked in a section that was tense or maybe hostile and it was related to personality differences, work ethic, supervisory style, etc.? It was clear to you who or what the big elephant in the room was, but you dared to address it for fear of a conflict. As a result, the elephant remained in the work center and you continued to be uncomfortable, stressed or maybe ineffective at your job. While avoidance might have appeared to be an easy short term solution, the long term effects could be detrimental. A better approach would be to constructively address the conflict.

As one of the most diverse organizations in the world, the military consists of individuals from all walks of life and various backgrounds. Our differences collectively help us to be the best military in the world; however, along with those differences also comes the risk of conflict. To maintain harmony in an organization conflict must be addressed.

As conflict is an inevitable component of the workplace, we should not run, but embrace it as it occurs. Just as we plan for contingency purposes we should also plan for workplace conflicts. If a plan is put in place to deal with a workplace conflict, it is more likely you will be able to effectively address it and experience a more favorable outcome.

When planning for and addressing a conflict, ensure your approach is constructive. This means your intent is to improve the relationship or the work environment as oppose to destroy it. Destructive conflict approaches tend to lead to chaos and discord in the organization. Constructive conflict planning is a means to help boost your social pillar in the Comprehensive Airmen Fitness Model.

Consider these few tips when planning. Practice how you would address the other party and anticipate both favorable and unfavorable potential responses. If possible, role play with a friend or coworker and solicit their feedback. Be mindful of your tone, inflammatory language and non-verbals. Remember, if your presentation is off, efforts to resolve the conflict might not be successful. Although you may not agree with the other person's point of view, understand their perception of the conflict, as it is their reality of the matter. Evaluate the timing for addressing a conflict. While some things need to be addressed immediately, others may not be appropriate due to important work taskings, lack of privacy, charged emotions, etc.

So remember, the question is not if conflict will occur, but when. Having a plan in place will help you to constructively meet it head on. Do not let the elephant destroy your workcenter.

As a reminder, the Equal Opportunity Office offers Alternative Dispute Resolution services at Joint Base Charleston as a means to help members resolve suitable workplace conflicts. If you find yourself dealing with a workplace conflict and you're not sure how to handle it, one of our services might be right for you.