Mindfulness can help solve workplace conflict

22 Oct 2020 By Maggie Baska

Employees who practise basic techniques are more likely to collaborate effectively during disputes, research finds

Workplaces are full of conflict – from interpersonal quarrels to misunderstandings caused by Covid-induced remote working – but researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have found that basic mindfulness techniques could help manage conflict and foster collaboration at work. 

The researchers questioned more than 1,000 working-age adults across the US about their levels of mindfulness; their likelihood of collaborating with others; whether they were likely to avoid conflict; and their ability to use cognitive reappraisal – a technique that involves recognising and changing negative thought patterns.

The study found those who scored higher on cognitive reappraisal and mindfulness could collaborate more effectively in conflict situations, and those who scored lower tended to avoid conflict. 

The team carried out a second study involving 600 people to see if mindfulness training could replicate the results. Daniel Skarlicki, professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business and co-author of the study, said those who utilised mindfulness training were better able to engage in cognitive reappraisal and were less likely to avoid conflict. 

By learning to manage conflict and the emotions attached to it, people could foster a more positive approach, Skarlicki said. “You can choose how you think,” he said. “That’s what mindfulness training does – it helps you understand that your thoughts are just thoughts, and you’re going to experience emotions, and that’s just the way it is.”

Skarlicki said conflict management was especially relevant during the pandemic as tensions can rise when people communicate virtually. He explained: “This is because words and their meaning can be misinterpreted as a result of a lack of in-person cues that aid in interpersonal interactions.” He said a couple minutes of mindfulness training a day could benefit those working remotely.

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