Erase-ism: End Divisive Conflicts in the Workplace

go to site follow link A friend of mine once asked me to draw a circle on a chalkboard. The circle was to represent all knowledge – everything known and unknown. The chalk squeaked loudly as I drew the largest circle I could. “Now,” he told me, “draw another circle inside that one that represents everything that you know.” [Well now, wait a minute. I was already at a disadvantage: when I was a kid, my dad used to tell me, “Now don’t you get smart!” So I never did.]

I thought about the request. Relative to the size of all knowledge, how big of a circle should I draw? How much do I really know? I eventually faced facts and drew a very small circle, just inside the edge of the big circle. There was no joy in it, but mine was an honest response. I really don’t know all that much after all. I stepped back from the chalkboard and considered my work. It didn’t make me feel very good about myself.

But wait! Salvation! I theorized that most everyone would draw circles similar in size to mine. My guess was that each person would admit that they, too, knew very little about things.

If ignorance is bliss, bliss has a lot of company.

So what does this have to do with conflict in the workplace? A great deal indeed. Most conflict comes as a result of differing perspectives. Race, religion, politics, even issues such as “who stole my stapler?” often begin – and end – with differing perspectives. [By the way, no one stole your stapler. You left it by the copy machine.] There’s no surprise in knowing that what makes us different, divides us. But we don’t consider the alternative as heavily: what makes us the same, brings us together.

This is as true in the office as it is anywhere else. We are bound together when we find common ground. But how does this change the way we relate to one another in the workplace? How can I reduce conflicts among my staff? We can start by finding common ground.

The story about the circles helps us all to know how very much there is that we don’t know. We get into trouble when we argue our personal perspective without first agreeing that, well… my circle is just as small as yours.

And that’s what we have in common.

When conflict erupts in your workplace, bring the parties together and talk about something that is non-confrontational for a few minutes; chill things out a bit. Then, explain the circles concept. In this case, pose the question, then draw the two circles yourself. (You don’t want the exercise itself to be confrontational!) Afterward, ask each of those in conflict if your example seems reasonable. Ask them to answer out loud.

Having set the stage by showing that this vast lack of knowledge is something we all have in common, you can proceed to work on the conflict. No one is shamed. Everyone is more open. Now you can begin to look for even more common ground. Acknowledging differences in perspective can defuse the conflict, and ultimately help everyone to agree that there is yet a great deal to learn. With your guidance, they can start learning from each other.

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One Response to Erase-ism: End Divisive Conflicts in the Workplace

  1. Johari says:

    This is quite interesting. It is nice to have someone of intellectual prowess endorse something that I have believed all along. Whew!!! It is a joy to know that I may not be so stupid after all. Yay Me!!!!!!!
    Thank you so much for reinforcing this perspective for me.
    Love Always

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