In my team building and executive coaching work, conflict is a topic that is frequently discussed. Conflict is viewed as a negative situation by most people—but it doesn’t have to be that way. Conflict, when handled appropriately, can lead to creative solutions, improved communication and teamwork, and a greater respect for others. Conflict in business relationships usually is caused by disputes over resources or misunderstandings around expectations and commitments.
The biggest mistake managers can make is to assume the conflict will just disappear. There are sometimes small conflicts that surface and indeed do get resolved very quickly. I’m not suggesting that at the first sign of a disagreement between employees managers should jump into “conflict resolution mode.” This post is about conflict that results in work inefficiencies, missed deadlines, errors or employee turnover. Too many times managers just hope it will magically get resolved—because they truly don’t know what to do.
Here are six points that can help you more effectively address and navigate conflict:
- Change your mindset – Mary Parker Follett, renowned management theorist, suggested that we “think of conflict as neither good nor bad…not as warfare, but as the appearance of difference.” Conflict is part of the human condition so don’t waste energy complaining about it. Try to make it work for you and your organization.
- Set the stage – Tell those involved that it’s okay to have conflict but not okay to be disrespectful. Tell them conflict usually means people are invested in doing a good job, but may have different views or challenges to deal with that are unknown to the other person or department. Therefore, the goal is to get clarity and find better ways to work together.
- Don’t assume you’re hearing the whole story or know what’s really going on – You need to ask questions. Get information, propose solutions, solicit solutions, explore what other issues might be impacting or worsening the conflict.
- Work hard to not become part of the problem – Be aware of what your own bias might be in the situation, what triggers your impatience or anger and work on setting it aside.
- Compromise is not always the solution – Few issues can be resolved with equal sacrifice and gain by all parties (remember the story of King Solomon and splitting the baby?). Acknowledge in the process that someone may need to make more changes than the other, or not get the resolution they want. However, it is key that they are part of the solution, understand why the decision is made, and you need to be sure that their contribution is recognized by everyone.
- Know when to walk away – There are some conflicts that may require additional assistance. If there are any potential issues that involve harassment, safety or questions of legality, bring it to the attention of your Human Resources Department. Sometimes the conflict is better addressed with the assistance of an outside facilitator who can help you more objectively navigate the differences that have surfaced.
Those who become good at managing conflicts as opposed to avoiding them become recognized as trusted and effective leaders.
Please share your stories or additional suggestions on how to handle conflict.
Mary Ann Gontin is Managing Partner of OI Global Partners – Cunis & Gontin, Inc. in Connecticut. Her firm has been providing human resources consulting services since 1974. Mary Ann has become recognized by clients for her ability to identify organizational and individual performance issues and propose creative and practical solutions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-473-4507.