Conflict in the work place – “Sometimes it’s like we are babysitters”

conflictIn the real world, not everything goes well, not everyone is happy, there is always bad news as well as good, troubled waters as well as smooth. Very few investigators  fail because of their inability to deal with success. Typically, failure in this industry results from an inability to deal with problems. Conflict  resolution within the police and investigative agencies  can be very difficult.  Some action, even if that is deliberate non action, must take place. 

In this episode I share a portion of training around the topic of conflict between peers and associated agencies.  Below are some quick tips we covered in the training.


Four  Basic Principles of Conflict

1. Conflict is normal and not all conflict is bad.

Some conflict is creative and has real positive uses. Sometimes its just a matter of differing life styles or opinions. Resolved properly these can be very use full

2. Good conflict may deepen superficial relationships

Many times relationships are very shallow and people never get close enough to ever even have a conflict.  Very often when a disagreement occurs the relationship between the two parties deepen, because they have come to know each other better. 

3. Personal growth often occurs through dissonance

Dissonance simply means lack of agreement.   Growth often occurs because the social  turbulence causes people to look for  resolution therefore resulting in personal growth.  Within  the public service community and among men and women of goodwill, conflict is common, not always bad, and can have positive outcomes. 

4. A model of advocacy may appear to be contention when it is not really  conflict

This can be an effective way to reach decisions.  If a group in a room brings together their own  passionate opinions and each expresses  them strongly, a disagreement can result. But done correctly and in humility the end can result in a balanced and successfully outcome and decision.

Five Basic Causes of Conflict

1. Conflict is frequently because of  unmatched expectations

These can lead to disappointment which leads to loss of confidence, and can arise from misunderstandings.  A different set of expectations of a leader, program, style, etc is a certain recipe for conflict

2. Conflict is caused by the mounting number of buried hurts, slights, and insults.

These hurts are often times collected up and saved. Burying feelings , disappointments, personal injuries, etc is  a  deadly illness in the public service arena. It is very unhealthy to bury your hurts. They will come out someday and in a big way. Many times conflict between two people in an agency is from a gradual buildup of hurt and disappointment.

3. A major cause of conflict is unexpressed fears.   (and jealousy)

People may find themselves resisting others because of fears that may have never been expressed. It is easy to become paranoid. It is easy to be fearful about what might happen in situations involving other co-workers or related agencies. If these fears are never expressed, they can never be countered, they can never be checked out, so they can never be resolved.

4. Competition for limited resources can cause conflict.

There is never enough money, time, or attention in the work of public service and government.  Leaders are many times placed in a situation where there is competition for  money and resources. The leader must respond by constantly reassuring people in an atmosphere of fairness so that conflict won’t occur. If someone gets the feeling that they  are not valued as highly as someone else, conflict will occur.

5. Conflict escalates in a hostile and failing environment.

A psychological study shows that if people or animals are put in situations in which pain is delivered and discomfort is created, individuals or animals will always  turn on each  and start fighting. So basically when things are not going well they just get worse. Conflict will occur and resolve must be obtained.  In a hostile environment people will lash out even when they are not meaning it personally or have any real reason for doing so.

How do we know when conflict is out of line

What guidelines can be used to determine whether conflict is a problem that needs attention or can just be tolerated and observed.

1. Conflict is out of line if it inhibits those involved from participating in the work  of the agency.

If a conflict, for whatever reason, causes a person to stop pursuing the goals of  the organization, it is a bad situation.

We can deal with conflict in two ways;

  • We can stamp it out every time
  • We can let it work itself out

Both have value but conflict is unacceptable if it keeps either of the combatants or parties from doing the work of the agency.

2. When conflict damages the public reputation of the agency, it needs resolution

When conflict is so great that it spills over into the outside world and damages the reputation of the agency, somebody in leadership needs to do something about it.

3. When conflict distracts from the larger task of the organization, it needs resolution

If conflict becomes so great that people and leaders are loosing focus of the vision and mission of the organization,  it needs attention now. Constructive criticism can be good, but let go too far and the whole mission is in peril.

4. When conflict is along vertical lines of  authority, it is wrong and needs attention.

If conflict occurs along vertical lines of  authority and is chronic and ongoing, it is negative and it is wrong . You must deal with it soon and completely. Do not leave any residue for it to grow back from.

Essential Qualities for Conflict Resolution

1. An attitude that harmony is important

That means that at least one must care about resolving the conflict. Remember friction creates heat, something must be done to change the situation. Tremendous power  and energy is created in an organization that comes together in unity and purpose.

2. A willingness to communicate openly, effectively, and constructively

Sometimes it is easier to not say what one thinks if he feels that it will not be well received or bring embarrassment to himself or someone else. But there must be a willingness by all parties to open communication without judgment.   Most conflicts occur simply out of an unwillingness to engage to open discussion

3. The ability to take another person’s perspective.

This is considered vital by psychologists, This is why role playing to so useful  Seeing and trying to understand another person’s point of view is a key to resolving conflict.

4. An ability to detach emotion from issues.

This is not easy, to take emotion out of a conflict and approach it reasonably and without emotion. It is reasonable to take time to think it through and remove yourself from emotions.Sometimes the process needs to slowed down because time can drain some of the emotion from the situation.

5. The ability to understand that conflict is not necessarily or essentially competitive

There does not always have to be a winner and a looser in every conflict. But many times a competitive  instinct keeps people from resolving conflicts on their own. Locked in disagreement,  the natural  tendency is to refuse to concede, because losing seems like surrender of the higher ground or greater advancement .When at least one person understands that its not about winning or loosing, then movement can be made toward resolution .  Seek Win  Win solutions


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About the Author
Darren is a 30 year veteran of law enforcement and criminal investigations. He currently serves as an investigator for the Crawford County Missouri coroner’s office. He holds credentials as an instructor for the Missouri Sheriff’s Training Academy, has served as president of the Missouri Medical Examiners and Coroners Association, and is certified and credentialed in numerous fields of investigation. He holds the position of lead instructor and facilitator for the Coroner Talk™ community as he speaks and writes in the area of death investigation and scene management.

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