How dealing with conflict led me to success

A while back I was teaching a group of sales executives who had recently attended a training seminar with a clinical psychologist.   The theme was conflict management and my participants were so motivated by what they had learned that they spent an entire session trying to explain different strategies and the rationale behind why they were effective.  Conflict occurs when two or more people oppose one another because their needs, wants, goals, or values are different.  Frequently it causes an emotional response, triggering fear, anxiety, anger and frustration.  To some extent, conflict in the workplace is inevitable, but it can quickly be diffused with the right techniques.  If a suitable approach is used then the situation can be quickly resolved and all parties can move forward.  If conflict is mishandled then chaos is likely to erupt!  So what kind of conflict are we talking about?  Lack of resources, a breakdown in interpersonal relations, a clash of interests and cultural differences are but a few of the reasons why colleagues can find themselves in a dispute.

As my course participants are involved in projects at an international level, it seemed to make sense that we exploit their materials a little and work on how to practice the same techniques in English.  We worked through the seminar materials, translating language into English and discussing the ways in which culture affects language use.  For Germans, for example, saying sorry is an indication that one accepts responsibility for a situation.  For British people – like me – it’s often an automatic response, intended to appease the situation rather than to admit fault.  The psychologist who they had worked with is a specialist in brain research, which I found fascinating.  Seemingly she analyses brain patterns and behavior and uses this information to support companies wishing to improve the interpersonal skills of their staff.  She believes that by following certain behavioral patterns we can positively influence those around us, even in situations of stress and conflict.

A couple of weeks after working on this topic, I noticed that BESIG (the Business English special interest group of IATEFL) was running a lesson plan competition in conjunction with Cambridge University Press.  I had just read Tsedal Neeley’s article on the domination of English as the worldwide corporate language and had pondered the topic with my learners working in international organizations. I decided to get in touch with Doris Gunsch who had worked with my own learners and ask her if she’d allow me to interview her as part of the lesson.  She did indeed and came up with some fascinating advice and explanations on how to deal with conflict, especially when presenting controversial strategic decisions in the workplace.  After numerous drafts I entered the lesson and won!  You can download and use my lesson plan via the Cambridge website here – I’d love to hear how you found it so feel free to drop me a line.

What did I learn from this experience?  Well we often talk about using the learner as a resource, and it’s clear that also activities with no connection at all to English can stimulate discussion, language use and linguistic development.  Furthermore ‘experts’ are more accessible than we think, and are often willing to share their knowledge (occasionally in return for a little name dropping!).  This can create challenging content and motivating lessons.  Finally I’m hoping to take part in some one-to-one training with Ms. Gunsch as I was so intrigued by the work she does.  This means my learners have influenced my own professional development, rather than it just being the other way round.

If you have had any similar experiences or want to share your thoughts then get in touch!

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