Be creative when it comes to handling conflict
By Persephone Nicolas
“In my world I travel at 900km/h. I might have a problem that needs hours to solve but I only have minutes.”
Andrew Staniforth is no action hero but he faces daily challenges that could make a grown man weep.
Imagine having to interrupt a prime minister and ask him to turn off his mobile phone.
Or perform CPR on a woman who has collapsed with a cerebral haemorrhage.
All in a day’s work for Staniforth, who has been in the airline industry for more than 20 years, working in roles ranging from ground-based training and development positions to managing aircraft customer service for international and domestic flights.
With 10 million kilometres, five million passengers and 15,000 flying hours behind him, Sydney-based Staniforth has learned a thing or two about human behaviour.
“Something extraordinary happens when people board a flight,” he says. “The pressurised environment of an aircraft cabin brings out people’s personalities and character traits and amplifies them. This makes humanity at altitude so interesting.”
So fascinating, in fact, that he wrote a book, Life in Flight, about it.
Yet with more than a decade’s experience in training and development, Staniforth saw there were broader applications for his knowledge. He began building conflict resolution, leadership, personal attitude and customer service programs, and Life in Flight Training, or LIFT, was born.
Using a bespoke approach, Staniforth captures his trainees’ attention in practical role-playing sessions within an in-flight simulator that takes an hour or so to build on-site.
“Death by PowerPoint is common these days. You see people switching off during training. This makes the training environment far more interesting,” he says.
The conflict resolution (fight or flight) module attracts the most attention, he says.
This would come as no surprise to Helena Cornelius, doyenne of conflict resolution, co-author with Shoshana Faire of Everyone Can Win and co-founder of the Conflict Resolution Network.
She says there is little data evaluating the cost to Australian business of unresolved conflict but believes we are living through a particularly testing era.
“In these times of financial stress, people are scared for their jobs and livelihood. It’s extremely stressful and we lash out. It’s very important that we cut each other some slack.”
Good advice, considering the results of unresolved conflict in the workplace.
According to the Centre for Conflict Resolution International, these include: stress, anxiety, loss of sleep, strained relationships, grievances and litigation, presenteeism, employee turnover, loss of productivity, increased client complaints, absenteeism, sabotage, injury and accidents, disability claims and sick leave.
It also highlights a study demonstrating that 42 per cent of a manager’s time is spent dealing with conflict.
Taine Moufarrige, executive director of Servcorp, a global company hosting serviced and virtual offices for about 12,000 clients, interprets the idea of conflict resolution broadly and says it absorbs a high proportion of his time.
“It’s part of everybody’s day now,” he says. “The days of the boss just giving out instructions are gone.
“ I spend maybe 60-70 per cent of my time bringing parties together, whether it be Servcorp dealing direct with landlords, dealing with my team or speaking to clients.
“It’s not just about disagreements, it’s about working through problems, managing differences of opinion, and that’s vital for moving forward. It’s an essential skill for anybody in any management position. When we get it right, it’s massive on our bottom line.”
Moufarrige believes effective conflict resolution programs enhance profitability.
“It costs four times more to attract a new client than keep an existing one. Things don’t go right all the time and staff have to be able to deal with it. Developing the ability to come up with solutions on your feet is vital in a service-based business like ours.
“Staniforth can’t get out of that steel bird flying through the air; he has to solve problems on his feet, and that’s what people have to do in service industries.”
Avoid playing the ace first: Resolving conflict means finding a solution that respects the needs of all. It isn’t about winning. Playing your ace card — for example, saying: "I’m the boss” -doesn’t impress anyone.
- Avoid assumptions: This can be a very turbulent route to fly should you be proven wrong. Gathering information is the key tounderstanding.
- Focus on principles, not personalities: It is impossible to argue with someone who will take things personally. Concentrating on principles and objectives eventually achieves the best possible outcomes.
- Allow people to take responsibility for their behaviour: This is the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t.
- Ask questions and pay attention to the answers: This will help you decide on the best course of action or help the other party find their own answers.
- Change perspective: Considering things from a different point of view shows respect and tolerance.
The Weekend Australian