Conflict in the workplace is an everyday occurrence. Most people face, and have to deal with, it. For someone with AS it can often be more prevalent.
For a manager with AS, is almost inevitable that the subject will have to be confronted at some stage during a career with either directly or as a manager acting as an intermediary between employees.
There are a number of relevant issues relating to conflict within a work environment.
* Conflict Prevention
The key objective of conflict management should be to prevent it occurring in the first place. For someone with AS this is not necessarily straightforward given the specific personal traits and demeanours that are associated with the condition and which, combined with other factors, exert influence and impact in a work context.
* Interpersonal Friction & Antagonism
Conflict often occurs as a result of personal factors such as different — and conflicting – personalities or interpersonal relationships.
For a manager with AS, this can present specific, problematic issues. Dealing with particular characters such as excessively assertive, provocative people or even bullies will be harder for someone with AS due to less developed interpersonal skills and an unwillingness to compromise principles by being amenable to, and concessionary towards, such personalities.
* Personal Dislike
Anti-feeling towards a person who displays behavioural character traits that digress from those deemed acceptable from an AS perspective, is likely to be much more pronounced.
Much of this is allied to Values and related traits such as Honesty, Truthfulness and Integrity and needs to be marginalized or managed in a corporate context to mitigate the potential to cause conflict.
* Individual Fiefdoms & Positions
Much of this will relate to politics and power. Protection of individual positions, power bases and the resources required to achieve things can be additional sources of antagonism and conflict.
Dealing with these issues for a manager with AS, calls for tact and subtlety – skills which are not always readily apparent or highly developed.
* Discourse & Verbiage
Communications or instructions in themselves may not be particularly contentious, but the way something is said and communicated can be a source of friction.
This area can present a particular problem for someone with AS, especially in a business context, especially when dealing with issues involving emotion.
Finding the right words at the right time to communicate a point is difficult for most people. The tendency at times for someone with AS to use stark language or the tone and prose with which it is delivered can exacerbate a situation and turn a contentious issue into a conflictual one.
* When & When Not To Confront
Most people dislike confrontation. For someone with AS it is naturally even more difficult as it involves interpersonal communication. A feeling of not being liked due to a “different” disposition may also contribute to a tendency to evade confrontation.
Timing any intervention, or deciding when to elevate an issue, is always an imprecise act. There are times when an issue may be best left so as not to exacerbate it. At other times, an issue must be faced to stop it inflicting long lasting or irreparable damage.
Factors such as emotion, integrity or honesty assume greater significance in confrontational situations for a manager with AS and so need to be controlled and managed.
* Conflict Prevention
The key to dealing with conflict effectively for someone with AS is to develop the correct mental disposition.
This means feeling “right” when dealing with confrontation and having a conscious feeling of being blameless with regard to any disagreement. In other words, ensuring that one has not contributed in any way towards the antagonism, inflamed or provoked it, and having made every effort to ameliorate, a situation beforehand.
Having a clear conscience and the feeling of having right on one’s side as well as the knowledge of not having reacted negatively and escalating any disagreement in the first place, is required.
The latter is particularly important. Ensuring that this is the case prevents a third-party from claiming justification for any action of their part which may be inappropriate and unacceptable by claiming that it was a response to unfair behaviour or any action towards them.
From the perspective of someone with AS, it means one can say they have been totally “honest” and fair in any dealings with others; in other words, values encroached on an issue nor has a person been contradictory or inconsistent and so has “practised what they preach”. This is approaching an issue in the right way and ensures that personal prejudices or morals have not infected any disagreement.
When these criteria have been satisfied conflict can be more effectively dealt with as it will enable an AS manager to feel totally comfortable within themselves’ and to argue rationally, un-emotively and objectively about an issue and with a third-party. This is especially important when a feeling of being truly being wronged is apparent as it prevents emotion, personal dislike or prejudice to intrude into an issue.
To deal effectively with conflict, it is important that a manager with AS is fully aware of these facets; how they can upset and alienate people and; work towards developing a personal strategy that ensures that these issues do not become part of any conflict prevention strategy.
* Personal Demeanour
Being highly independent in both outlook and actions, and not outwardly inter-relating with others, may at times unintentionally convey an impression of indifference or even contempt towards others.
A person with AS may unconsciously and unintentionally offend people through a combination of various factors including body language, choice and delivery of words and the attention — or not — shown towards people.
Being open and approachable to fellow workers is an important step in conveying a positive impression towards others.
Pro-actively engaging people by approaching and communicating with them helps create the opposite impression and, in many ways, is what other managers and workers will expect in return.
* Keeping Values & Personal Judgements Out of Business.
Possibly one of the hardest requirements for a manager with AS, given more highly pronounced perception of morals and values, is the need to keep these factors out of business and personal relationships.
It is inevitable that in business that a manager with AS will meet people who do not share the same morals or values, or even possess ones that will quite strongly digress and be disapproved of. This facet has very high potential to induce conflict.
Cognitively conditioning acceptance of the fact that there will be people with different moral viewpoints is essential in retaining internal composure to prevent negative vibes developing and being transferred.
* Reduced Emotional Responses
Like point iii, developing the ability to restrain the normal reaction of someone with AS to criticism or personal attack is a highly important and necessary tool. Over-reaction based on initial emotion, which has inflamed a situation, rather than rational thought and a measured response to constrain it is often the natural response.
Reacting emotionally will convey the impression of being easily provoked which can, when dealing with certain personalities, (see interlink When You Meet That Person) induce further aggressive and persistent confrontational behaviour.
Maintaining composure is particularly important also when dealing with other senior figures or “important others” (see Politics interlink) to convey the impression of gravitas as a manager and avoid the risk of inflaming relationships with managers able to exert influence personally and professionally.
* Dealing with “Difficult” People
Dealing with people of a certain disposition can be particularly challenging. Stereotypically, these are aggressive, bullying types, people who are unwilling to compromise their views or position or who exude — from an AS perspective — a moral stance that does not reflect AS outlook’s and values.
In business, it is important to appreciate that the luxury of working with people who do not automatically share the same or similar outlooks will always exist. Different views, values and positions will always be present to differing degrees and accepting this is needed to build an effective modus operanti to work effectively with a variety of different personalities and managers.
As with other issues, developing a specific cognitive approach to different people is the solution. When I encountering a person one immediately dislikes, challenge any negative perception of them and seek to understand them and their position. Cognitively condition yourself to not allow a disparaging stance towards them straight away to develop and insist on attempting internally to develop a relationship with them.
This strategy should be adapted and implemented more vigorously when dealing with very difficult or objectionable people. The more one dislikes someone initially, the greater the effort which should be made to engage, be amenable, open, and to try and build bridges with them.
Actively seek them out and try to understand them, locate qualities within them that you can relate to, and resonate with, and build a relationship with them to reduce any negative personal feelings and demeanour towards them to avoid the potential for triggering friction.
In particular, consciously, as someone with AS, consider the Fundamental Attribution Error, (see interlink) which is highly relevant in a business context.
When dealing with difficult personalities in business, keep the adage “keep you friends close, and your enemies closer still” very much in mind. That person could end up in an influential and more senior position later and be able to exert impact on your role and position.
There will, however, at times be people who because of their personality and disposition, a person with AS is unlikely to be able to form a working relationship with (interlink “when you meet that person”).
In this situation there is the need for a different more radical approach with strong consideration given to extricating oneself from the situation.
* Select Words Carefully & Moderate Your Tone.
Developing the facility to identify and use more moderate and less emotive words when responding to contentious issues and situations is another invaluable tool for a manager with AS. In addition, learning to deliver responses in softer, more conciliatory tones and appreciating that the delivery of words and opinions can lead to outcomes contrary to those sought, can also bring benefits.
The start point for achieving this is to mentally assert that “I am not going to react to an attack or outburst”. Repeating internally that any attack or criticism will bother, and that any response towards a third-party will be moderated, will help prevent escalation and take the heat out of the opposing party.
* Use moderate vocabulary and a conciliatory tone
Train and condition yourself when dealing with antagonistic issues and people to search for moderate vocabulary and to use a conciliatory tone.
* Focus on Facts
Another vital requirement to reduce emotion and negative internal feelings, is to concentrate solely on facts when dealing with contentious issues.
Ask: what exactly is the issue here and why does it need to bother you? In many occurrences, the problem will not be the person but the issue behind the personality. Seek to locate and address this, and seek the opposing manager’s consent and agreement.
* Sense of Inferiority or Weakness
It is important not to allow feelings of inferiority due to AS or “differentness” to prevent the confronting and dealing with a conflict issue if need be.
Feeling uncomfortable about confrontation due to sensing that AS may have contributed to, and exacerbated, an issue will weaken the ability to deal with an issue effectively.
Confrontation & Conflict: Effective Coping Strategies
The key objective is to try and avoid confrontation and conflict, but there will inevitably be times when, as a manager, it will occur and has to be faced.
The following provides a useful framework for dealing with conflict and confrontation and in which elements of AS behaviours which may impact upon the situation can be rectified and accommodated.
* Be Precise About the Problem and Exactly Why It Needs Confronting
When considering whether to confront an issue or a person, careful consideration should first be given as to whether it is really necessary and, if so, what the possible consequences are.
Fundamentally this should be for reasons such as damage to the organisation, significant damage to one’s own position or if someone has acted dishonestly.
Specifically, from an AS perspective, affronts to one’s character and values which may lead to the issue festering and brooding internally are particularly relevant. The latter can impact very negatively on performance and hugely on inner thought patterns and mental disposition.
Of real importance and high relevance is if position develops of being victimised (interlink).
Insufficiently justifiable reasons for elevating and confronting an issue as a consequence of an AS perspective, include:
* Personal dislike towards a person, rather than, an actual business issue;
* Moral judgement about a business issue;
* Over-emotive reaction.
However, perhaps the most important — as well as difficult and subjective — decision that any manager has to take with regard to confrontation is — Timing.
Deciding when to confront a problem is a massively important issue. A problem can be apparent for a long time but there may be no immediate reason to elevate and confront it. At others, not confronting a problem can be not only damaging but potentially terminally damaging.
In the first instance, a more effective strategy may be to play down an issue’s significance by managing, and not exacerbating, it. Relatively minor issues, albeit ones that grate and annoy, would fall into this category and for someone with AS should be strongly avoided.
However, certain issues, such as for the reasons listed above, mean they must be addressed. Gauging exactly when the time is right will depend very much on the actual situation and the person involved and will often rest on intuition.
The key requirement is to ensure that facts are fully available and are on your side. For someone with AS, facing down conflict becomes much easier when one is in possession of accurate facts, feeling certain that one has done nothing wrong or has exacerbated a situation and can resort to facts to substantiate an argument.
* Act Immediately & Do Not Delay
The AS tendency to innately avoid confrontation, combined with the desire to remain insular and not become directly involved with other people as far as possible, can mean that issues that need to be confronted are not only avoided but also delayed.
The longer the delay, the harder it becomes to address an issue and the greater the potential damage which can be inflicted.
If the issue is serious and needs addressing, the decision needs to be made, and the resolve needs to be apparent, to act.
* Proper Preparation
Proper and comprehensive preparation is essential is conflict or disagreement is to be effectively resolved.
This is especially so if an opponent is more senior and there is the need to avoid alienating that person and running the risk of experiencing retribution (usually indirectly) later.
Preparation for confronting a person or issue will involve the following:
* What facts and evidence actually relate to the issue?
* How can these be deployed and used in your favour?
* Think through the issue, what it involves and where are any discrepancies in the opposing side?
* Observe and respect grievance or other related procedures;
* If necessary take legal advice;
* Talk the situation through with a trustee to identify pitfalls;
* Evaluate the Person you are dealing with & Anticipate their Response
A highly important factor given the demeanour and mode of thinking of someone with AS.
Is this person [opposing figure]:
* Someone who is reasonable, amenable, open to discussion?
* Are they aggressive or passive?
* Are they senior to you?
It is important to remember that the opposing person may well not share the same outlook in terms of integrity, honesty, values and, perhaps most importantly of all, sense of fairness, as someone with AS or match what is expected in return.
Key is adopting a different strategy with different people in order to identify and implement the most effective approach.
* Deliver Feedback in a Non-Critical Way and Balance with Positives
Again, keep emotion out of it!
If the situation has evolved due to a personal need to confront it, then chances are that feelings about it will be very strong and possibly emotive.
With AS, this can involve a perception of injustice against the other person, but there is the need to always remember that it is a business scenario.
Focus on facts and deliver points in a pitch and tone that is reasonable. This should be one whose mode is non-complaint and not patronising. Avoiding the extension of any feeling of personal dislike towards the other person is also a pre-requisite.
* The Aim is to Solve the Problem.
Keeping personal feeling out of it is important in resolving the issue in the long term. The process should be about a grievance issue and not about criticising, scoring personal points or getting back personally at the person connected with it. To use a religious metaphor: “condemn the sin, not the sinner!”
The latter is particularly important when dealing with someone higher up the managerial chain – or someone who may be in the future and with whom one will have to work going forward.
Any grievance may well be justified, and the person opposite may be being totally unfair. However, they are unlikely to view it that way.
As a manager, conflict and confrontation is inevitable. For a manager with Asperger it is can be more difficult to manage.
Developing effective strategies for conflict resolution is therefore essential and should be a key management development objective.
Avoiding conflict in the first place is, however, even more important. Recognising how AS can contribute towards the development of disagreement is not only a duty and also the best way that a manager with AS can avoid conflict in the first place.
Every manager with Asperger has the capability of achieving this given resolve and determination. It should and can be done.