Self-awareness and conflict

Jul 11 2011 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

"Knowing thyself" is an in-depth understanding of "who I am" and "how I am". This understanding of one's self is the product of the formal and informal experiences of living life. But, to be clear, this understanding is not the result of simply "having" experiences, but is the result of deep, consistent and conscious reflection on one's experiences - the lessons learned, be they the good, the bad or the ugly.

Self-awareness occurs as the result of experiencing some sort of inner or outer conflict which tugs on our sleeve and forces us to change. One of the results of such transformation is that we often change our value system which is reflected in new ways of thinking, being and doing.

Examples of experiences that bring us to "know thyself" include mid-life crises (which, by the way, are affecting people at earlier and earlier ages today, no longer just in middle age), health issues, relationship issues, career issues, financial issues and mental, emotional or psychological issues.

At work

In the workplace, organizational awareness is the totality of each employee's self-awareness. Where employees are more self-aware, workplace conflict can be minimal and constructive. But in an environment where the majority of employees are non-self-aware, conflict can be insidious, toxic, all-pervasive and destructive.

The bottom line is that the way your organization, department or team handles interpersonal conflict can either be an experience of vitality, collegiality, and camaraderie, or toxicity, demoralization, resentment, disrespect, resistance, and derailment.

In fact, the major cause of "loss processes" in organizations is not due to processes at all. More often it is caused by dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics. More and more in today's organization, success and effectiveness are dependent on the synergies that are created when people are in alignment with one another.

When folks' attitudes, beliefs, and values are in alignment, their behaviors are consonant and supportive of departmental, team and organizational goals.

But when one is driven by self-limiting and self-defeating personal biases, prejudices, beliefs, assumptions and "stories" - all of which are unspoken and often unconscious - discord often rules and ruins the day, ruins the meeting, ruins the processes and ruins relationships until folks agree to "out the elephants" in the room and consciously deal with the dysfunctional behaviors that underlie conflict.

"Soft skills"

When leaders, managers and supervisors have the strength and courage to understand and agree that "soft skills" are the "hard skills" of effective relationships at work (and do the work that's required to bring people to that level of awareness), defensiveness, resistance, turf and ego issues will begin to melt. In their place, people will begin to feel, and be, freer in their behaviors and attitudes in a way that fosters greater mutual respect.

The process of knowing thyself begins when one consciously explores "how I am" and "who I am" when it comes to "the way I am", i.e., the way I communicate and interact, with others.

Self-mastery explores things like:

  • my verbal and non verbal behaviors,
  • my emotional behaviors - how I express my feelings and emotions
  • my intentions underlying my behaviors - my hidden agendas, or disharmony where what I "do" is out of alignment with what I "say"

How do I "know myself?"

"Know thyself" requires taking a conscious look at how I experience myself at work and how I experience my interactions with others. Self-mastery requires us to examine the disconnects that exist between what we say, think, feel and do - disconnects that lead to being out of harmony and integrity, and to being unethical and disrespectful (in thought and action) that result in counterproductive patterns of behavior, and conflict.

"Know thyself" requires taking a conscious look at why, for example, I need to lie, cheat, steal, bully, gossip, and be disagreeable, disrespectful, resistant, non-trusting, sabotaging, discourteous, and insensitive.

Some questions for self-reflection

  • How would I rate myself on a scale of 1(low) to 10(high) on the following: (a) my being a team player; (b) my relationships with others; (c) how much I trust others; (d) the quality of my communication efforts with others; and (e) my attitude?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how self-aware am I of my feelings and emotions?
  • Do I believe life is a "zero-sum" game - that if others "get theirs" I won't get "mine"? If so, why? And, if so, has this attitude brought me more pain or happiness in my life?
  • Do my relationships manifest trust, dignity and respect?
  • Am I harboring grudges from the past? If so, why?
  • Do I live my life based on the "oughts" and "shoulds" of others? If so, why?
  • Do I have counterproductive habits and patterns I am afraid to release? If, yes, why?
  • Are my relationships at work characterized as task orientation or relationship orientation"?

"Know thyself" requires taking a conscious look at "where I'm coming from" and whether "where I'm coming from" is supportive or limiting to the team, department and my organization.

The bottom line of knowing thyself when it comes to conflict is this: conflict is rarely the result of "technical" issues. Most often, conflict is based on some underlying fear and is an interpersonal, psycho-emotional dynamics issue.

"Task orientation" and "people orientation"

People can relate to one another on the basis of a "task orientation" or on the basis of a "relationship orientation". Task orientation centers around functions, roles and business strategies and tactics. Relationship orientation centers around trust, safety, understanding, respect and sensitivity.

Effective conflict resolution must rest on the fulcrum of relationship orientation, on people, not processes. Organizational self-awareness occurs when the majority of employees are engaged, consciously, from the perspective of relationship orientation, i.e., "who I am" and "how I am" and not solely on "what I do".

A self-aware person is one who examines the quality of his/her interpersonal relationships in an on-going manner. A self-aware organization is one that examines the quality of its interpersonal dynamic on a regular basis.

To be an effective leader, manager or supervisor, this on-going exploration that leads to supporting people to actively and consciously engage in their personal growth would serve us well in an effort to reduce the negative effects of workplace conflict.

Focusing on the "technical" alone won't do it; never has, never will.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.