The 4S Formula for Workplace Conflict Resolution

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A workplace can be a location of flourishing creativity, impressive efficiency and the nurturing of an almost family-like culture.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 2017 study showed that employed persons spend more time at their workplace than in their house; that’s 7.9 hours per day compared to 3.1 hours at home. The downside is, when you put dozens of human beings into one place together for eight hours a day, day after day, strife is bound to happen. Whether you are a business owner, manager or employee, everyone has the responsibility to keep their workplace as emotionally, mentally and physically healthy as possible. The good news is that the innovative practice of the Four Ss encourages honesty and dialogue when a place of employment turns into an emotional battlefield.

The Four Ss formula was originated by Bill Carl, a pastor and the former president of the Pittsburgh Seminary. In 2010, Carl published “Best Advice: Wisdom on Ministry from 30 Leader Pastors and Preachers,” and the 4S approach encompassed an entire chapter of this book. The author’s unique method of conflict resolution was meant to encourage a better way for pastors and parishioners to reduce conflict, but it also introduced steps that could be used in any setting that involved people working together. Its simplicity and practicality has proven to be an ideal way to keep the workplace culture positive and vibrant. The breakdown of the 4Ss is surprisingly simple.

No Secrets
The old adage “You are as sick as your secrets” may seem extreme, but the reality is that unhealthy secrets do indeed fester and tend to come out in unhealthy and unproductive ways in every aspect of life. Workplace secrets in the form of gossip are a toxic habit that fuels conflict, hurts others and ultimately leads to mistrust within a company culture. According to Carl, the goal should always be to keep the lines of communication open and get team members talking to each other, instead of about each other, in a respectful manner.

No Surprises
New ideas, good or bad, are encouraged within a company setting, but not when they come as a surprise to others. The problem is compounded when the creator of the new idea tries to apply their enthusiasm for it with a jackhammer to fellow staffers. The result is an uneasy atmosphere that can quickly lead to tension, resentment and frustration. As an owner or manager, directing these off-the-cuff ideas from impulsive to a more thought-through project that the whole team can participate in is a best practice in keep surprises in check.

No Subversion
Subversion is defined as the “the undermining of the power and authority of an established system or institution.” In simpler terms, subversion in the workplace can take the form of backstabbing, gossip, disrespect of leaders and the proverbial “throwing someone under the bus.” Like unhealthy secrets, subversion habits can wreak havoc on workplace dynamics with the quiet undermining of management or leaders. Team members who console each other and vent is one thing, but subversion is a potent poison that spreads through a company culture like a virus. To avoid letting the destructive seed of subversion take root, owners and managers should be on the lookout for angry water cooler dialogues or parking lot complaining sessions and instead encourage all staff to be open and honest with their frustrations.

Lots of Support
This step reinforces what each of us as individuals knows; we all want and need affirmation. We all want and need encouragement. It never feels good to be torn down by others and, when we fall into that habit ourselves, we recognize that it still feels pretty crappy. A simple demonstration of support in the form of a heartfelt compliment, a kind word, interest in someone’s life beyond the cubicle and verbalizing appreciation goes a long way in establishing a culture of support and genuine camaraderie within a business. Team or committee members who are feeling valued and appreciated are also the ones most likely to go above and beyond for their company. If leaders disregard the importance of connecting with their employees on an authentic level, they lose the benefit of a loyal and dedicated team.

The bottom line is that conflict is inevitable and avoiding it rather than addressing it can be detrimental to all parties involved. The common thread that connects the steps of the 4Ss formula is that everyone deserves positive encouragement and reinforcement and leaders who are present in the moment. Whether at home or work, or even within our community as a whole, we all have the responsibility of being the instigator for finding the good in others, building each other up and continually looking for ways to live, work and play harmoniously together. ■

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