Why So Much Conflict?

I was asked by a client a little over a year ago to do some type of internal training addressing all the conflict in the world today entering the workplace and how to reduce or eliminate it. I was excited to do the research and put together the training on this topic as I too was noticing the steady creep of conflict and tribalism that has resurfaced recently in our society, entering the workplace and causing damage.

I started by explaining how conflict isn’t new; it’s been around since the beginning of mankind. That is a result of conflicting beliefs or worldviews.

Then, in my research, I saw how social and political unrest were permeating the walls of corporations and their leaders simply didn’t know how to respond.

What I learned was the emergence (or reemergence) of Tribalism. Tribalism is

–    The state or fact of being organized into a tribe or tribes

–    Merriam Webster defines it as “consciousness and loyalty” “especially exaltation of the tribe above other groups.”

–    They penalize outsiders, seemingly gratuitously. They will sacrifice, and even kill and die for their group.

Then I revisited the training I facilitated with this client on applying EI in the workplace. Specifically:

–    Understand the saying “you are what you eat” and how this applies to consuming information.

–    If you truly seek to understand, you will spend more time consuming information and asking questions (in an attempt to understand) of those who you do not agree with, rather than spending all (or the majority of your time) with your own “tribe.”

–    Realize, that regardless of what you are consuming, you are being manipulated by those seeking to add to their tribe. That is why you must use critical thinking skills.

Notice how all of this is different from what we’re being told in today’s environment. We’re being told NOT to source information from counter ideas/thoughts, and they have labeled it “misinformation” by one tribe and “fake news” by the other tribe.

Notice how tolerance has been redefined from “putting up with” or “considering alternative views” to “agreeing” with the tribe’s precepts. AND if you don’t, you are “canceled”.

This is NOT how any of this is supposed to work. It is a lie to keep the “house divided”. Don’t fall for it!

Tribalism is built on the “us” vs. “them” concept. The “us” are everything “good”, “right”, “worthy”, “rational”, and “true”. Whereas “them” are everything “bad,”, “wrong“, “unworthy“, “irrational“, and “false.

When you are in this “state” you seek out information that confirms your beliefs. This is called “confirmation bias”. 

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. People display this bias when they select information that supports their views, ignore contrary information, or when they interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing attitudes. 

Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgment.

Socrates is known as the “father of critical thinking”. He used an educational method that focused on discovering answers by asking questions of his students. According to Plato, who was one of his students, Socrates believed that “the disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enables the scholar/student to examine ideas and be able to determine the validity of those ideas.”

Notice this is the opposite of what is going on today. Today is about programming and indoctrination. Telling you what you should think and if you don’t “fall in line” you are ignorant.

After learning all this terrific information, that seemed to fit what my client was asking for training on. I started digging into resources that address how to process conflict using critical thinking skills. 

I went to my bookshelf and grabbed a terrific resource on this topic, “Crucial Conversations” by Joseph Grenny. If you have not read this book or helped train your teams in this approach, I highly suggest you do. It is filled with helpful approaches and techniques to combat conflict.

In the book, the authors talk about the importance of establishing “common ground” when engaging with a person who is proactively engaging in conflict. The authors point out that genuine “kindness”, “curiosity” and “common ground” help you to establish a psychological safety net. Once you have safety, you can begin to disagree meaningfully.

By creating this safety, you will begin to notice empathy and understanding instead of fear, disgust, or distrust. Then you will continue with… that’s interesting. I see it differently. Do you mind if I share my perspective? Tell me what you think about this.”

If safety is threatened as you disagree—if parties get defensive or combative—come back to kindness, curiosity, and common ground. This is the beginning of a dialogue. 

It is okay to disagree and hold differing points of view. It is not okay to demean, judge, and toss aside people who happen to disagree or hold differing points of view. That is not tolerance. That’s the irony of today’s cancel culture. The “tolerant” group cancels those with whom they disagree. This won’t last. This will eventually eat itself, as it always does. So don’t play the game.

Have respect for each other. Ask questions. Establish common ground. And be kind, regardless of their point of view.

If we do that, and do not allow them to divide us, we shall stand together.