This fall, YPA partnered with the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Emerging Leaders program to present the workshop, Managing Up and Down: Conflict Resolution in the Workplace led by mentors Judith Pineiro, Executive Director at Association of Art Museum Curators, Maria Villafranca, Director of Communications at The Andy Warhol Foundation, and Renee Foster, Chair of Fundraising and Development for the Universal Hip Hop Museum. The mentors shared their own experiences facing conflict head on in the field and we had a chance to discuss as a group various scenarios typically encountered in the workforce. We learned quite a deal from the evening and gathered up some key takeaways for approaching conflict.
Conflict at work in the arts is inevitable just as it is in every area of life. We spend most of our time at our place of work and working on a team means balancing an array of personalities, communication styles, and management types. But we are actually more equipped than we think to work through problems and more importantly, to embrace conflict when it does come up to become a productive tool for building a stronger work environment and culture.
Empathy is key
Keep in mind, not all conflict is because of or about you. Bad days, crummy moods, personal life issues, health reasons, and other factors could have caused an unpreferred reaction or encounter with a co-worker. Our panelist all reminded us that empathy is one of the most important things to bring into any situation. Let go of the small stuff, unless it becomes a pattern.
Taking a step back and practicing self-reflection is also an important action towards approaching any situation. Asking yourself is there a way to navigate around this conflict? Is the situation personal or does your judgement warrant the concern? Questioning the situation can strengthen the outcome, and always, always do your research to back it up.
De-escalation is the goal
Never put someone on the spot! Ultimately, distance will help de-escalate conflict. Take some time and when you are ready to work through something do it in person. Not over email. This doesn’t always happen by the end of a workday. That is okay. Resolution is not instant.
Bias in Conflict
All panelists warned of identifying when a conflict is because of a bias. Be that because of your age, race, education, or background, microaggressions in the workplace are never appropriate and handling them is a must. It won’t always be comfortable.
It’s the Culture
Is the culture poor at the office or is it the climate? Conflict or unhappiness could be a product of the ingrained culture of the institution and that could be at odds with what you are comfortable with. Certain cultures breed conflict and being able to identify the source of the issue is essential to knowing what your next move is.
Having a clear expectation of your role and understanding the company’s goals, vision, and core values are things to consider when weighing decisions. Holding your co-workers and situations to the standards of the company's core values is great framework. Align your purpose with these goals.
Management styles come in all shapes and sizes. If you are encountering a problem that is a result of clashing management styles, asking for more feedback and evaluating your willingness to work with them if it does not approve is a viable option.
When to walk away
You must honor your passion for your work and your goals. Only you know when a situation at work is unsolvable and you should walk way. Some questions to ask yourself:
Have I accomplished my goal here? Did I learn a new skill? Was I able to grow my knowledge? Measure the conflict against that and weigh the terms. Sometimes the answer is to move on.
Positives of Conflict
Conflict helps build decision making-skills, helps generate creative solutions, and can ultimately build a cohesive language between you and your team when embraced.
Decision making-skills will approve from your conflict navigation because of the steps of evaluation and perspective you’ll apply to each situation that arises. Overtime, this will build your experience level and ability to handle a vast range of situations
Creative solutions can be a positive outcome from conflict. When different opinions meet and are able to talk through multiple aspects of a project, ultimately the project will benefit.
Each time a conflict arises and you are able to successfully work through it with a co-worker you are building a knowledge database of communication habits, personal styles and behavior patterns.
Our mentors had so much to share but ultimately we learned the importance of speaking up, embracing discomfort, and recognizing that conflict is a necessary part of life when it comes to working with others and that it can and should be navigated strategically!