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<xTITLE>Break & Repair vs. Preventive Maintenance in Workplace Conflict</xTITLE>

Break & Repair vs. Preventive Maintenance in Workplace Conflict

by Lorraine Segal
February 2020

Conflict Remedy Blog by Lorraine Segal

Lorraine Segal

Are you waiting until relationships are broken to deal with workplace conflict? Tip: this is not the most effective way to deal with disagreements and problems!

Recently I had a conversation about this with an old friend of mine who now has a handyman business. I was telling him about my work in conflict management, and how I much prefer to teach people conflict management skills, and give them a conflict “toolkit” before they are in a conflict, or coach them individually on how to manage and heal conflicts, rather than sit down “cold” in a mediation with two “hot” people who are very angry with each other.

My friend understood what I was talking about right away, because he said it is the same in his business. People ignore a problem and wait to call him until something is completely broken and won’t work at all. He will fix it, but he also tries to educate them about the value of regularly scheduled maintenance. He called it “break and repair” versus “preventive maintenance”. The way he expressed it, sounded exactly like two basic approaches to conflict!

In both our businesses, preventive maintenance is a lot more cost effective and less stressful. Why?

In his business, when something, like a cupboard door, for example, is completely broken, it takes more time to repair, and, as well as increased labor costs, you may need to buy replacement parts, such as a new latch or hinges or even a new door if it got splintered.

In workplaces, managers, HR staff, and “C” suite people often don’t know what to do about a conflict, since managing conflict isn’t usually part of their professional training. So, they ignore it, hoping it will just go away on its own. Generally, this is as (un) effective as ignoring a dripping faucet, hoping it will fix itself. When the relationship is “broken” and there are a lot of misunderstandings, grudges, and hurt feelings, it takes a lot more time and effort and money to “repair” the damage.

A number of times now, I’ve been called into organizations or corporations that are having a conflict crisis. Often, through individual and sometimes dialogue coaching, I am able to help fix the situation. But, I also often offer to do a conflict and bullying assessment, with the goal of addressing problem areas and the need for training, so they can be more proactive rather than waiting for another relationship or situation to “break”.  Sometimes they agree, and other times they wait and call me for help with another crisis.

It is human to look away and hope a problem, whether in a home repair situation or at work, will go away if you ignore it. But it is far more effective, and more conducive to a peaceful, productive work environment to address problems early before they become major. The “preventive maintenance” approach is also the purpose of the 12-week conflict management certificate program I created at Sonoma State University.

So, I ask you—is there a conflict at your workplace that you are ignoring, feeling helpless about, or hoping will go away? I encourage you to do “preventive maintenance” now, and avoid much bigger problems in the future.


Lorraine Segal, M.A. is a Conflict Management and Communication Consultant, Coach, and Trainer. Through her own business, Conflict Remedy, Ms. Segal works with corporations and non-profits as well as governmental entities and individuals to promote harmonious and productive workplaces. 

She is a consultant and trainer for County of Sonoma. And, at Sonoma State University, she is the curriculum designer and lead teacher for the new Conflict Management Certificate program. Ms. Segal was recently named one of the top 30 Conflict Resolution experts to follow on LinkedIn. She is also a contributing author to the forthcoming book, Stand Up, Speak Out Against Workplace Bullying.

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