Care-fronting vs. Confronting: How to Address a Difficult Breakdown in Communication

A regular challenge for leaders is conflict management. It used to be that managers would expect their people to toe-the-line upon command, and any communication breakdowns in the workplace were handled by diktat. In the modern business environment, such action only serves to solidify workplace conflict: one person feels more ‘put out’ than another from the action taken repairing communication breakdowns.

When left unchecked, communication breakdowns in the workplace quickly evolve into a melee of emotional distress. While managers may have a critical part to play in repairing communication breakdowns, this should be seen as a process of last resort. In the modern, flatter workplace it is becoming essential that conflicts are managed and resolved at the employee level. Empowering this to happen by coaching employees in repairing communication breakdowns should be a regular training function of any organization.

Avoid workplace conflict by caring

In the early 1970s, Dr. David Augsburger coined the phrase ‘care-fronting’ when describing his innovative approach to conflict management. His premise was that workplace conflict is to be expected. After all, people have different backgrounds, upbringing, values, and beliefs. The traditional approach to conflict management doesn’t take these factors into consideration, and instead leads to further and deeper communication breakdowns in the workplace.

Care-fronting uses a more holistic approach to conflict management and repairing communication breakdowns. In practice this means attaining and maintaining working relationships that aid workplace effectiveness and productivity. Unsurprisingly, prevention of communication breakdown requires adeptness in conscious communication.

Seven methods of care-fronting

When developing a care-fronting strategy, there are a number of methods of avoiding conflict and encouraging a more caring, communicative workplace:

1.      Listen and understand

Seek to understand the other’s point of view, and understand that they are likely to be predicated by values and beliefs. Show empathy and realize that some comments may be personal. Don’t become aggressive, but be prepared (and do) have a full and frank discussion about all feelings on both sides of the communication breakdowns in the workplace.

2.      Accept anger and own it

Anger is a natural element of conflict, and so should be acknowledged promptly. By doing so constructively, anger can be turned into a positive emotion. A useful tool to measure natural responses to conflict is TKI Conflict Instrument: which will help all to understand their own potential conflict style when they begin to confront their own feelings of anger – the first step to controlling and owning anger.

3.      Invite change, don’t demand it

The demand of changed attitudes and behaviors itself invites workplace conflict. A care-fronting approach instead invites change, asking what effect behavior and attitude change will have on working relationships. This helps people to realize the need for change and the positive aspects of repairing communication breakdowns. This is a descriptive rather than judgmental approach based on observance.

4.      Be open to encourage mutual trust

Working relationships are best when there is mutual trust. Trust engenders engagement and commitment, but is damaged rapidly when workplace conflict exists. Remember that the opposing set of values and beliefs are equally important to the opposing individual.

5.      Forget the blame game

There is no mileage in playing the blame game. Assigning responsibility for communication breakdowns in the workplace to a single person or point of view negates every method of care-fronting. Refusing to place blame allows all parties to move forward to a resolution together.

6.      Accept responsibility for workplace conflict

Employees must understand that they have a responsibility both in the conflict itself and in the management of that conflict. This acceptance will release them from being cemented to their values and beliefs and become agreeable to the change needed to develop a productive and effective working relationship.

7.      Be caring and encourage compromise

Conflict management is only successful in a caring environment that encourages compromise, and this compromise is likely to be embedded in multiple points of view.

Do you want a care-fronting workplace or a confrontational workplace?

When arguments, disagreements, and different points of view are allowed to denigrate, communication breakdowns in the workplace affect productivity and positivity. A care-fronting environment promotes open and honest communication between employees, instils mutual trust and changes working relationships. Its effectiveness is reflected in the growth of productivity.

Contact Forward Focus today to discover how an Emotional Intelligence course will develop and embed effective workplace conflict management skills in your employees, and move you more swiftly toward your productivity targets.

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