In effective organizations, members of a team come from different academic, cultural, and professional backgrounds. When people from different backgrounds work spend countless hours together and collaborate on valuable work, conflict is inevitable. In this post we are providing conflict resolution at work examples that leverage relational psychology principles, namely, attachment theory.
The Integrated Attachment Theory (IAT) framework has had a profound impact on how attachment styles are displayed in professional dynamics.
Recent literature has addressed how these unconscious influences, when understood, can lead to improved workplace dynamics and more productive teams.
This blog post will present the intersection of attachment theory and corporate conflict resolution, leaving you with practical strategies for your team to find common ground.
Why do we need conflict resolution at work examples?
When employees work closely with colleagues, conflict can arise due to differing communication styles, conflicting goals, or other interpersonal tensions. Addressing conflict as it arises is crucial to maintain a healthy work environment, which is in turn vital to driving successful outcomes in your organization.
To navigate conflict in a successful way, it is important to understand why it occurs in the first place. One proven way to resolve conflict between individuals is through the lens of attachment theory.
Attachment theory is a psychological framework that explores the impact of early relationships on adult behavior, reactions, and relationships.
If you think of the human mind as a version of a computer, attachment theory goes back to the early phases of the computer programming to understand how certain stimuli were encoded.
What are attachment styles?
Attachment theory, developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, presumes that the quality of early relationships with caregivers sets the foundation for relational patterns throughout life.
Through these early relationships, the mind codes the successful interaction patterns, which are the ways the individual maintained a connection to the caregiver that assured them the food and comfort needed for survival.
These interaction patterns form attachment styles that shape how the child approaches relationships, handles stress, and copes with conflict as an adult:
- Secure– send clear signals when they need their partner, and reasonably know their partner will be there when needed
- Insecure- Avoidant attachment style- have a hard time relying on others and may be uncomfortable getting too close with partners
- Insecure- Anxious attachment style- fear they won’t be able to reach their partner if they need them, and tend to need a lot of reassurance
Insecure attachment styles inside and outside of work have been associated with a low ability to resolve interpersonal conflict.
How do attachment styles impact conflict resolution at work, examples
The attachment system is a mechanism of human functioning that is present whether we are at work, with our families, or out on a first date.
Effective working with others
Higher levels of mastery in skills
View work as a safe space
|Constantly seeking approval, low level of autonomy
Fear of losing job or underperforming
High stress and strain
|Cynicism, high turnover
Burnout and strain, Fear of failure
While employees at work have an attachment style that is determined by their relationships outside of work, their work relationships influence their functioning as well. Attachment styles highly influence an individual’s approach to conflict and their ability to work toward effective resolution of them.
While employees unconsciously bring their beliefs about how to work with others into the workplace, conflict resolution is possible with the knowledge of attachment theory.
Research shows that managers serve as a secondary attachment figure, which means managers have the ability to impact how safe an employee feels at work, their trust in the organization, and their ability to move through conflict.
Literature in the field also shows that the less connected to others and the organization employees feel, the more likely they are to take feedback personally which can increase the risk of conflict. The conflict also leaves the potential for a missed opportunity that diversity of thought can provide an organization.
Strategies for conflict resolution at work examples
Understand and acknowledge differences between team members
As a leader in your organization, it is crucial that you can recognize and respect the diversity of thought, background, and attachment styles within the workplace.
When leaders and employees do not have this knowledge, misunderstandings and further conflict about the conflict itself may arise.
Creating space for employees to bring their full selves to the workplace and being acknowledged for their differences is crucial. If employees are further criticized for anxious or avoidant tendencies, they will only further retreat into those unhelpful methods.
Identify your own attachment style
As a leader, identifying your own attachment style will be incredibly valuable. Employees are not operating in a vacuum, but rather, they are constantly responding to the demands of the environment.
If you identify with an insecure attachment style, it would be helpful to understand the fears, anxious demands, or criticism you may be passing onto your team.
This free attachment theory quiz will help you understand where you fall on the spectrum. The good news is, attachment styles are malleable, and once we are aware of them, they are highly open to changing to new, more functional ways.
Adjust communication strategies for attachment styles
Start to notice the ways different team members react to stress or high demands. Notice whether they tend to seek constant reassurance (I.e. anxious attachment) or whether they have a hard time trusting others and prefer to work alone (I.e. avoidant attachment).
Once you observe how your employees handle stress differently, offer tailored communication strategies for each attachment style to enhance understanding and reduce conflict.
When working with avoidant attachment style employees, help these individuals to feel heard and valued by respecting their need for autonomy. You can also hear their thoughts non-judgmentally to encourage them to continue to express thoughts and ideas.
To help anxiously attached employees, offer the reassurance and positive feedback they seek to alleviate fears of failure. You can also established clear expectations and communicate frequently to reduce fears driven up by uncertainty.
Speaking directly to the employee’s specific attachment style will calm their need to protect themself, which is the function of the attachment system. They will then be able to respond in a productive, effective manner.
Create a secure environment
Like all relationships, creating a secure environment with employees is not a one-and-done activity, but rather a practice that needs to be attending to on an on-going basis.
Have regular employee wellbeing initiatives that facilitate healthy conversation, allow employees to feel heard, and drive connection within the team.
Foster a sense of belonging by and encourage collaboration by highlighting the interconnectedness of individual contributions to the team’s success. Making all your employees feel like part of a greater mission will help to ease conflict as it arises.
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