Workplace Conflict & Conflict Resolution: Action – Reaction

Newton’s first law tells us that every object in motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless otherwise acted upon. Even if it’s in the wrong direction, unfortunately.

How do we reconcile these two concepts when it comes to conflict resolution in the work place?

Often, if an individual has chosen the trajectory he wants to go on and has taken steps to remain on that certain path and has committed to seeing that path through to the end, he will become rather unwilling to deviate from that plan. Unwilling, even if there exists a different plan that would be more effective, efficient, productive, etc. He might even realize that his choice was the wrong one – but pride, regret, shame, and embarrassment keep his eyes glued to that uncertain horizon as he stubbornly pounds forward.

Until he is acted upon – sometimes by a coworker, often by a manager or supervisor. Then the manager must attempt to change the ways of that individual, and there in that moment a conflict is born. It can then escalate quickly.

Newton also claimed that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The shark propels herself forward through the murky shallows by vigorously swinging her muscular tail back and forth. However, were it not for the force of the water through which she swims pushing back on her with equal force, the shark would sink – and suffocate. There is an elemental symbiosis at play.

When that manager presents her concept of the more prudent way of doing things, she is exerting a sense of force upon the employee; that person’s commitment to working the way he sees appropriate is the force that he will exert upon his manager.

This perhaps is the most elemental approach to “conflict resolution” available to managers and supervisors. I’m bigger and more influential than you, so you therefore will bend to my will and move in the direction I want – or else you will find yourself without a job.

However, we must remember the shark. Were it not for the force of the water pushing back on that shark’s tail, the shark would go nowhere. It needs the resistance and the opposition in order to efficiently and productively move forward. The employee’s resistance – and successful communication of the elements of his plan and procedures that hold water – as it were – may propel the entire company forward. Perhaps his inspiration is the starting block from which the company explodes out of in its quest for greatness.

It is the manager’s responsibility to understand that that action-reaction relationship is what drives companies forward as new ideas are developed, old concepts are revised, and enlightened dreams are born – so long as there exists that symbiotic, productive approach to conflict resolution in the workplace.

We must celebrate each other’s commitment to moving in a positive, purposeful direction – whether it is the manager appreciating her employee’s willingness to at least attempt pushing a concept in a certain direction, or the employee respecting his supervisor’s willingness to help him work in such a way that benefits the company and his personal job practices.

Winston Churchill was known to have said, “Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” We may not always be excited about receiving the constructive criticism that will help us make better choices and more positively impact the world around us. However, if we believe in the cause, and we are committed to not only being our best selves in our workplace but also seeing the company be its strongest and most productive self, then we must be ready to learn and grow and change and develop in order to make that happen.

Our managers must realize that were it not for the water pushing back against the shark, that shark would slowly sink – and suffocate.

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