Smith. Rock. Slap. Play safe, in conflict.

Australia in the 1980s raised awareness of the importance of sun protection through a campaign of Slip, Slop, Slap – Slip on a t-shirt; Slop on some UV Cream; Slap on a broad brimmed hat.  Like many a memorable advertising campaign, Slip, Slop, Slap entered into and successfully heightened our collective awareness and ensured we played safely in the sun.

Published by Peter Singer

I’m wondering whether we could imitate the campaign slogan and adopt a new phrasing –   

“Smith, Rock, Slap”   

And if so, could this slogan possibly have the impact of heightening our consciousness, only this time, in regard to our handling of conflict, particularly in the workplace?

As a professional, you’ve likely experienced workplace interactions, team meetings, broader organisation information sessions or even fun celebrations in which a delicate turning point in an interaction unexpectedly surfaces.  These ‘choice points’, where a situation could (and too often, does) turn and spiral downwards or be salvaged, too frequently end up with undesired outcomes.  They can end in shared embarrassment, awkward silences, artless recoveries, frustrated walkouts, escalating shouting exchanges or worse still, threats of violence.         

Conflict handling, in my view, still remains “the final frontier” within the field of leadership – how to navigate that unpredictable energy field between people.  The leadership literature seems to either omit or skirt the importance and complexity of conflict or poses succinctly, that “a good leader knows how to handle conflict”.  

However conflict handling skills are not innate. The leader that expects his team members to “be mature enough” to work through the conflicting issues may not be admitting what they are sensing – “I don’t know what to do here” or “I just can’t handle this”.        

“Smith, Rock, Slap” illustrates both the importance and complexity of accepting and entering conflict constructively and provides some worthy observations of what happens to us in those instances where conflict is ignored or ignited.  If you haven’t already watched, there is a link below to the 2 minute incident.

Chris Rock is that individual whose observation of and comment about another team person backfired and ended up causing hurt.  What could have been done to deal appropriately with his manner for this incident, for past situations and potential future hurting of others?

Jada Smith was the target of the comment, at first shocked and then hurt and not having any channel through which to express her experience and underlying need to repair the situation.  Further, has focus now been diverted completely away from her, her shame and humiliation due to a new conflict escalation that had usurped the attention ? What would Jada need to restore her sense of self?

Will Smith (who at first laughed) then observed his wife’s Jada’s hurt, experienced his emotions and reacted, choosing for his feelings to control him.  Could he have used his emotions constructively to uncover his deeper need, certainly not satisfied by the slap heard around the world ?  Was he possibly angry at himself for laughing at the joke initially and then venting his anger with righteous indignation at Chris Rock, rather than accept his own part in Jada’s hurt ? 

The audience as observers, froze and were left looking on incredulously.  What role could they have played in arresting the shame felt by all the now affected parties (post slap)?  What would Rock and the Smiths have wanted from the audience to calm this issue?

The Academy were the facilitators of the event.  They are meant to be creative, known to be the absolute makers of ad-lib.  Could they have created a repair mechanism to restore the sense of celebration to an otherwise now tensely poised auditorium ?  This morning the Academy announced that they would be opening ‘a formal review’ of the incident.  Was this the appropriate step ?  Will this possibly meet everyone’s needs or will this miss the point, leaving everyone angry and unfulfilled, as formal processes can tend to do.  

And so the conflict turns in its circle – the perpetrator becomes the victim (Rock was slapped); the victim falls into the background (Jada is hurt and forgotten); The aggressor (Smith the slapper) is not dealing with possibly what is under the surface (through failing to harness his emotions effectively).  And then the flare up will be all handled through a formal process.

There is another way.  We can accept and enter the conflict effectively. We can turn this around. We can transcend the conflict. Ken Cloke, Professor of Conflict and Author, states ‘Conflict is at the crossroads where a problem meets skills that cannot handle that specific problem’. We may have observed that in the Smith, Rock, Slap incident.

Are you prepared with the tools for such conflict within your own workplace ? 

What would you have done here ?    

author

Clare Fowler

Clare Fowler is Executive Vice-President and Managing Editor at Mediate.com.  Clare received her Master's of Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law and her Doctorate in Organizational Leadership, focused on reducing workplace conflicts, from Pepperdine University School of Education. Clare also coordinated… MORE

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