Conflict and resilience – what’s the link and why is it important? By Alison Love

August 2nd, 2020

I have recently become an accredited [email protected] coach and so have added this tool and skill set to the accredited conflict coaching models that I have been using for some time.

I have been reflecting on the link between resilience and conflict recently; particularly as the need to focus on resilience and well-being is vitally important as we are living and working with Coronavirus, understanding what that means for family life and future employment and adapting to rapid change. These are testing times for us all in different ways. This may well impact on our resilience with increases in stress and worries regarding health and/or economic well-being, loss of support networks and feelings of isolation with an increase in remote working and job losses and the difficulties of balancing work and home life.

The definition of resilience in the [email protected] model is “an individual’s capacity to manage the everyday stress of work and remain healthy, adapt and learn from unexpected setbacks and prepare for future challenges proactively”. Unlike other definitions or models, it is not about how quickly someone can “bounce back” or how much more an individual can cope with. Rather It is focused on the ability to manage in a healthy way, to learn and to apply that learning to better prepare for future challenges.

So, what is the link with conflict?

  • Where an individual has low resilience, this may well impact on their ability to effectively manage relationships at work, particularly where these are difficult and there is some conflict. It is likely that the ability to manage stress will be reduced leading to a greater risk that individuals will react and respond in ways that may be unhelpful and escalate the conflict. I can certainly think of situations where I have been stressed and as a consequence have not responded in the most helpful way.
  • Similarly, if someone is in an unresolved conflict situation for any length of time then this is likely to have an impact on their resilience. Studies suggest that conflict is the top stressor in work with 99.9% of people stating that it is an important contributor.
  • An outcome of informal conflict resolution is as much about enabling individuals to better understand and manage conflict or differences in the future as resolving current difficulties. This links very clearly to the principles of learning from setbacks in the resilience model.
  • The resilience model has a number of factors which link directly to conflict resolution. In particular, the ability to maintain perspectives; to understand and appreciate other positions, reframe things and to focus on solutions.
  • Values are central to both. If there is a clash of values, then conflict is more likely to arise and if we are in situations that do not align to our core values and beliefs this will ultimately impact on resilience. Values are also important in relation to the things that get us hooked in a conflict situation and push our hot buttons; these are the things that really irritate us and generally lead to an unhelpful or destructive behaviour which again escalates things.
  • The resilience model is based on behaviours rather than personality or traits. It is concerned with a greater self-awareness of one’s own behaviours and how these might impact and recognising and working on what might need to change. This is similar to the principles that underpin conflict resolution and the conflict coaching models that we use.

Why is it important in the context of conflict resolution?

  • Once resilience is low the ability to effectively engage in conflict resolution may become more difficult. A definition of “conflict competence” is“ the ability to develop and use cognitive, emotional and behavioural skills that enhance productive outcomes of conflict and reduce the likelihood of escalation or harm”. As this definition makes clear, resolving conflict takes some considerable emotional and cognitive effort; this is made more difficult when someone has low resilience.
  • The question may therefore arise as to whether an individual is sufficiently resilient to enter into informal conflict resolution such as mediation or be in a place where conflict coaching can help. It may be that in some situations there is a need to work on resilience first, to rebalance and improve such things as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, managing stress or building support networks before tackling the conflict situation.
  • Conversely, in a crisis situation the focus maybe on trying to assist in resolving the immediate conflict with additional support provided to help rebuild resilience in the aftermath. I have in mind here a particular client I coached recently who was no longer in a conflict situation but who was struggling to come to terms with what had happened and whose confidence had taken a real knock. This was also beginning to impact on work life balance/healthy lifestyle and well-being. This sort of support could be particularly helpful in the aftermath of painful grievance processes.

Conclusion

Resilience and conflict clearly impact and interrelate in many ways. Resilience is another potential support which can be provided either pre or post a conflict situation or as a stand-alone support. Ultimately this is part of the toolkit available to help employees better manage themselves and their relationships at work.

If you would like more information or would like to discuss a particular situation please do contact us on [email protected] or 08000 489235.

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