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Growth through conflict

Conflict is not about disagreement, indecision or workplace stress, rather, Daniel Dana, the author of Conflict Resolution describes conflict as a condition under which workers whose jobs are interdependent feel angry and perceive other parties as being at fault.

February 5, 2009 
By Les Karpluk

How issues at work can push managers to become better at their jobs

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the various generations presently working in the fire service helps to create a positive environment.


Conflict is not about disagreement, indecision or workplace stress, rather, Daniel Dana, the author of Conflict Resolution describes conflict as a condition under which workers whose jobs are interdependent feel angry and perceive other parties as being at fault.

Conflict and personal growth seem to contradict each other but Ken Cloke and Joan Goldsmith, in their book Resolving Conflict at Work, say there are two faces to conflict, the creative and the destructive.


There’s little doubt that there will be conflict, either as a creative or destructive force, in a typical fire department with its multigenerational makeup. Channelling conflict in a creative direction is a challenge but allowing destructive conflict into the workplace can have short- and long-term ramifications for the fire department. The emotionally intelligent fire-service leader understands that conflict is a fact of life and will work to find win-win solutions.

Members of the multigenerational workforce in the fire service have different life experiences and heroes, enjoy different types of music and embrace different beliefs. Understanding the makeup of this workforce is one step toward turning conflict into personal growth and fostering an atmosphere in which mutual respect and harmony can thrive.

Understanding of the job strengths and weaknesses of the following three generations presently working in the fire services is necessary to create an environment in which everyone can focus on shared interests:

  • Baby boomers (1943-1960) are service orientated, good team players, driven, willing to make the extra effort and want to please. Boomers are reluctant to go against their peers, are judgemental of those who do not agree with their views, are self-centred, sensitive to feedback and uncomfortable with conflict.
  • Generation Xers (1960-1980)  are technologically literate, are adaptable, are not intimidated by authority, are independent and creative. However, they lack patience, people skills, experience and  the boomers perceive a lack of work ethic among the Xers.
  • The Nexters (1980-2000)  are often called generation Y, millennials or echo boomers. Being technologically savvy, optimistic and able to multi task are a few of the strengths the Nexters bring to the profession. Nexters require structure and supervision and lack experience when dealing with
  • difficult people.

Without having at least a cursory understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the multigenerational workforce inside the walls of the fire station,  we risk losing employees whenever conflict arises.

■ Personal growth
Just look at the weaknesses of the multigenerational workforce and it is evident that a single recipe for conflict management cannot exist. Humans are complex machines and resolving conflict can become an art for some, while others fail to get the picture and tend to see the dark face of conflict.

So, where does the creative face of conflict present itself? According to authors Cloke and Goldsmith, when conflict is viewed as an opportunity, you become the shaper of your conflict experience. Today’s fire-service leader understands this, embraces it and realizes that growth in conflict can reveal personal hot buttons and the ways to eliminate them. Be honest. Think of your personal hot buttons and how they have caused problems during a conflict situation. Then think about how knowledge of these hot buttons could have eliminated or improved a conflict situation.

True leaders in the fire service want to understand their weaknesses; revealing hot buttons is one step in growth and personal development. Without a doubt, this is a part of the creative face of conflict.

Briefly, let’s examine other areas in which personal growth can occur through conflict.

  • Conflict can reveal the tiny issues that have built up over time. An understanding of the deeper causes of the conflict provides opportunity to resolve the conflict and to grow as a person.
  • Learning to disarm personal defence mechanisms permits better communication, a new context for understanding and an improved working relationship with the other party.
  • Learning to listen to the other party separates the physiological (hearing) from the psychological (hearing). Growth occurs when listening and hearing is used to discover what is important to the other party.
  • The search for creative solutions in a conflict situation causes personal growth.
  • Looking for meaning behind the words of the other person may help to reveal what is really needed to solve the conflict. Learning to pick up on these hidden meanings may help prevent future conflict.
  • People have a choice whether to understand and control their emotions. This is easier said than done. For example, no one can actually make you angry, rather you control your response to others. Understanding your emotions and your emotional responses to others during conflict is an skill set and a major contributor to personal growth.

Being in a conflict situation is not about looking for the evil in the other person. In fact, there must be a separation of people from the problem and personalities from behaviours. Fire-service leaders need to understand that there can be growth in conflict. Conflict resolution must be embraced by a positive attitude and as a journey of growth rather than a destructive force. Is conflict and personal growth a paradox in today’s fire service? You tell me.

Les Karpluk, CFO, BAppBUS: ES is Fire Chief of Prince Albert Fire and Emergency Services. He is a graduate of the Certificate in Fire Service Leadership and Fire Service Administration programs at Dalhousie University and graduate of the Bachelor of Applied Business: Emergency Services from Lakeland College. Contact him at

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