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Monday, June 20, 2011

Are you conflict sensitive at work?

Words by Francis Kahihu

The Kenyan National Assembly has on its in-trays a bill seeking to regulate the use of vernacular in public offices. The proponents of the bill indicate that by use of vernacular languages, people who do not understand it at the workplace feel threatened and sidelined in discussions. In brief, they suggest that the use of vernacular at the workplace leads to potential conflicts when people perceive the switching to vernacular as means to back bite others or make plans behind the back of colleagues. It will be interesting to see how this debate unfolds.

Conflict sensitivity is the inherent realization that the reactions, actions, words or behaviors of one person could trigger a conflict either with another or a group of people. The workplace is one such a environment where individual differences and perceptions could easily lead to either overt or covert conflicts. It is hence helpful to gauge how sensitive we are to others so that we do not trigger conflicts with our workmates. Rate yourself against the following parameters and score your conflict sensitivity mark.

Use of vernacular: As indicated above on the bill before parliament, are you keen on using your vernacular whenever you are engaged in a chat with a staff with whom you share a mother language? As you engage in the vernacular chat, do you realize that there are other people in the office who do not understand what you are talking about and may feel left out in the conversation? In cases where you were chatting in your mother tongue with a friend and a colleague from another community joins you, do you consider it courteous to change the language to one that all persons can understand or do you proceed regardless of whether the colleague understands what you are saying or not?

Gossip: Are you the kind of person who generously opens up their mouth and utters whatever comes to their mind about other people? Are you always itching to leave the office over tea or lunch break so that you can tell others the’ hot news’ about your other colleague or even your boss? Does it bother you that you rarely first seek to confirm the truth about some of the allegations you level against your colleagues?

Language: Do you usually think twice before uttering certain words to your colleagues? Is it important to you to realize that that people are of different backgrounds with strong convictions on certain issues? Do the differences in religious affiliations, tribal orientations and social backgrounds strike you as important to note when relating with people? Do you make quick accusations of other people without clearly appreciating the reasons as to why they behave the way they do? Are you quick in making generalizations about people and take them as applicable to all in your speech and conduct?

If you have more than 3 positive responses to all the issues raised above, you may then want to consider a mentor’s help in helping you become more conflict sensitive.


  1. You raise pertinent issues here. It is high time we embraced diversity in Kenya. We need to mind more about our country than ourselves. Can we borrow a leave from our neighbours, the Tanzanians and ensure that we speak a language that unifies us rather than divides us. United we stand but divided we fall! Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and no one should ever be sidelined especially by use of vernacular language which has its place too.

  2. Gossips destroy friendships even a stable firm! Someone said that if a person gossips to you about someone else,put in mind that he/she will do the same about you to another person.
    People should have principles and respect for one another as well as knowing the sensitivity of any issue before embarking off to say something.
    Glad you posted this Kahihu in time.A stitch in time saves nine!

  3. True. True. Gossip at the workplace kills relationships, creates mistrust and enhances suspicion.

  4. use of vernacular language is one vice I have had to live with and to say the least, it is irritating.


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