Workplace conflict is inevitable, even if most people would like to avoid it at all costs. But darting out of the way of an argument can be just as destructive as erupting into an emotional tirade when you clash with someone. Employers use conflict management training games to reinforce the message that disagreements are normal and healthy. These games can also coach staff on how to turn that difficult peer or customer into an opportunity to improve personal communication styles.
Role playing games illustrate the tensions that ignite when opponents focus on their own interests. For example, in one game a conflict management trainer asks students to divide themselves into management and staff roles. They then take sides and debate something that might set the two groups apart, such as the fairness of a dress-code policy that specifically emphasizes the importance of female employees dressing more professionally when they’re in customer service roles. The next activity involves a high-performing employee who wants to juggle his work schedule to 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., which causes the supervisor to worry that a switch might set an unwelcome precedent. These exercises highlight that conflict usually is rooted in competing viewpoints. The goal is help staff learn the value of compromise.
Our personal perceptions dictate how we process information. To demonstrate this filtering using a conflict management gain, have a trainer instruct a group of employees to imagine another employee arriving at work wearing faded clothing. Ask your group to share their assumptions based on someone’s appearance and to recognize how negative perceptions influence our interactions with other people. Also, instruct staff to volunteer instances when they’ve been the targets of others people’s biases. Allow class members to discuss the unfairness of being judged by someone who hasn’t taken time to get to know a colleague. Both exercises reinforce the value of minimizing office conflict by demonstrating respect for differences among co-workers.
Perceptions prevent us from discerning all the facts, especially in the midst of a quarrel. In one conflict management game, the trainer reads aloud a scenario about a cashier who turns off the lights at a store just as an assailant steps forward, demands cash and flees. Training class members are asked if they remember the genders of the cashier and thief or specific details about the chronology of the holdup. Many students will offer incorrect information or they won’t recall ever hearing reference to those details. Listening games demonstrate that conflict can start when co-workers base their assumptions on very limited information. One helpful tactic for defusing an angry peer is to restate back to her everything you heard her argue. This allows her to clarify or correct details or viewpoints.
Games involving body language underscore the importance of being able to interpret positive and negative cues during conflict resolution. These same activities teach staff that negative nonverbal behaviors, such as rolling your eyes, can heighten tensions during a disagreement. Likewise, a nod or a smile can have a calming effect on an opponent in the midst of a dispute. An activity that demonstrates the value of posture and gestures requires two volunteers to exit the classroom and then return and have a conversation about their upcoming weekend plans. Before the pair walks back in, the trainer asks the other classmates to study the two volunteers’ nonverbal cues and analyze them afterward. In another conflict resolution exercise, colleagues stand with their backs together and talk aloud for 30 seconds about their weekend activities. Classmates then discuss the awkwardness in communicating without face-to-face contact.