Beyond technical skill and commitment, good performance at work depends more and more on the ability to work with other people constructively. Relationships are not only defined by the good moments, the times where everything runs smoothly; it’s actually people’s ability to handle difficult moments of conflict which creates the best relationships.
Conflicts emerge in different forms and need to be handled differently. Conflicts can be obvious or they can be hidden. Obvious conflict, whether it shows itself in a good or bad way, is more likely to be addressed because it is visible. By contrast, hidden conflict is often not noticed, or at other times it is ignored and not managed, but sooner or later it may turn out to be really important for the future of the relationship.
We all tend to prioritise important and urgent things, and we make limited time to stop, sit down and reflect on our seemingly good relationships. Often, if we look deeper and more critically at our relationships, we find something is not quite right, we see small points of disharmony – there is a hidden conflict.
Sometimes a structured analysis of the situation can help us see things in a different way and detect issues that we previously ignored. This approach can form the basis for a conscious discussion of any uneasiness in the apparently normal relationship.
The next step, often the most difficult one, is to share your thoughts with the other person in the relationship. The aim is to communicate the issue in a helpful way, without creating unnecessary barriers, so that a real change follows.
Here are some important tips to handle hidden conflicts:
- Act as soon as possible, because delays simply increase stress and exacerbate problems
- Start well: state your positive intention for what will be discussed
- Communicate your discomfort by being open: your feelings are an indisputable reality
- Only discuss observable behaviours and be objective when describing them
- Do not attack the person in any way
- Do not argue about your opinions. Accept the other person’s point of view as it is, even if it is unpalatable or you disagree
- Highlight the impact on the business, such as the negative consequences for your jobs or the negative effect on the performance of the whole team.
- Come up with specific actions: negotiating a change using precise details increases the probability of success
- Aim to improve the situation incrementally, rather than pretending you can fix it once and for all
Finally, be aware that to effectively manage a hidden conflict you do not have to completely solve the problem. When a relationship is difficult, every communication may hide a seed of conflict. If you are alert to all the signals in your relationships, and if you are ready to try to turn all your interactions into something positive, that is often good enough.