Resolving Conflict at Work without Villains and Victims

You know how the game villains and victims is played, although it’s unlikely you’ve ever called it by that name.

In resolving conflict at work, villains and victims is played when one person is seen as being 100% wrong and another person is seen as being 100% right.

It’s a game because it doesn’t in any way reflect reality.

Yes, there is evil in the world, and actual villains do exist. And also, by extension, there are actual victims as well. But those circumstances are rare, and even then there are ways to keep from being victimized in them.

For most of the conflict we face at work, however, there are multiple layers of responsibility (what psychologists call a contribution system), and multiple ways of dealing with it effectively. Here are three:

1. Give up blaming others

The first thing a person gives up when they stop playing villains and victims is the luxury of blaming others when things go wrong. It’s a luxury because when you see someone as 100% wrong, you, then, are 100% right, relieved of any responsibility in the situation.

I refer to this as looking out the window or looking in the mirror. When something goes wrong, a victim looks out the window to find someone to blame, a villain.

When you give up this game in resolving conflict at work, you do something different. You look in the mirror and ask yourself, “How did I contribute to this problem?”

It’s this kind of honesty that will make you a true leader.

2. Accept your role in the conflict

When a person looks in the mirror, they see themselves as they really are, not who they think they are. That’s what’s great about a mirror, it doesn’t lie.

Armed, then, with the answer to the question “How did I contribute to this problem?” the next step in resolving conflict at work is owning it.

Owning it means doing one thing: apologizing. And because it’s the responsibility of leaders to lead by example, leaders apologize first when things go wrong.

Not groveling, but apologizing.

Not apologizing for stuff you didn’t do, that would be lying, but, again, apologizing for your contribution to the problem. Simple, clear, authentic.

3. Offer solutions to the problem

The famous biblical instruction to take the log out of one’s own eye is often quoted without its corollary. There’s a reason we should take the log out of our own eye. It’s so that we can see clearly enough to take the splinter out of another’s.

Ever have a splitter in your eye? It’s a painful, irritating situation and people need help removing it.

Once you’ve accepted your role in conflict, serve others by offering solutions to the situation at hand. But just like you would if you were poking around in someone’s eye to remove a splinter, do so carefully and kindly.

And because you’ve apologized for your part, I’m assuming you’ll do it humbly as well. Right?

Resolving conflict at work is essential for leadership effectiveness. Unresolved conflict, like a contagious disease, will sicken everything in its path. Look in the mirror, own your part of the problem, and provide positive solutions.