Conflict is a fact of life – it happens all the time to all of us, whether it be through business or personal relationships.
Firstly, I would like to stress that conflict is not always a bad thing – and in many cases it is actually a good thing, so the notion of eliminating conflict, is not only Utopian but also counter-productive.
What I would stress, however, is that the way that conflict is managed or resolved is where we start treading on dangerous ground, which many try to avoid, and it is often avoidance that causes the most problems, especially in the workplace.
Conflict is usually an integral part of the culture of business – where competition in the marketplace spills over to individuals and departments, fighting for their own corner that can actually disrupt the fighting for the big picture – causing fractures and interpersonal conflict where everyone, ultimately loses out – if it is mis-managed.
Managers are often held in high esteem for an aggressive, controlling approach to their jobs rather than being more accommodating, which is often viewed as over-leniency or as a lack of decisiveness.
Those who may question things are often seen as the ‘problem’ and a ‘good’ manager would not be held in high regard if they were to negotiate on this level – problems are to be dealt with – not to be negotiated with.
If there is no conflict, I would argue, that there is little perspective for personal growth and learning within the organisation.
The image, at least for me, would be one of total serenity and agreement with all that is happening – or, worse, a suppression of anything that may upset the status quo – this is where the expression, “If it isn’t broken don’t try to fix it” causes tension with “If it is running, don’t try to make it run better, faster, cheaper and easier.”
After all, in business shouldn’t we be looking at the latter?
Just to be clear, conflict is not just about the petty animosities and arguments in an organisation – it is also about having conflicting ideas and points of views – challenging received ideas and helping people to grow and learn, whilst facilitating organisational growth and learning.
The problem often results in personal attacks, animosity and tribalism in organisations – but this is just the tip of an iceberg that is too often left so deep under the water, due mainly to the fear of meeting things head on and actually dealing with things – managing … isn’t that what managers are paid for?
That doesn’t really answer the question as to why most of us approach the idea of conflict with fear and trepidation.
One of the main difficulties is separating the situation from personalities – and then separating people from their behaviours, which can lead to labelling – labels then become bigger that the people that wear them.
You know what I mean, “Bob, is a difficult person.” – “Fred is too direct.” etc. – actually getting over this and seeing Bob and Fred in another light is a very difficult prospect which can lead to scenes being played out in the mind before any attempt at conflict resolution is undertaken.
The image of Bob refusing to move on an issue can be stronger than the desire to challenge him on it, and often leads to a state of defeat before even attempting it “There is no point, he won’t accept this …” So he is not challenged – conflict is avoided, but it will rear its head at a later date, that is a sure bet.
Conflict resolution is more about understanding, of the situation, conflicting ideas and points of view and of oneself rather than about mediation and can make the difference between positive and negative outcomes in the organisation.
Any form of conflict generates stress and strong emotions which can have a direct bearing on both behaviours and non-verbal communication – it is not comfortable, but can provide huge opportunities.
Conversely, The most important information conveyed during conflicts and arguments is often communicated by way of paralinguistic variable such as, vocal tone, facial expressions, postures, gestures, eye-contact vocal rhythm and intensity of voice.
Here are twelve points to bear in mind when dealing with conflict:
1. Responsibility – both parties are intrinsically implicated and accountable for the resolution of conflict. It is not a one-way affair. Implicate others by asking for their ideas for resolving the conflict and build on this, offering a joint solution which fits in with the needs of both sides. Make it clear that they are stakeholders in the resolution of the conflict and are directly responsible for the success and failure that ensues.
2. Positive – Everyone’s action is for a positive end. Even if a person’s behaviour and actions may appear to be counter productive, negative or even damaging, they are acting in that way for a positive end, at least from their standpoint, although it may be difficult to see or understand objectively.
3. Assumptions – Don’t make assumptions – discover exactly what the issue is – take a step back and attempt to view things with an objective eye, avoiding preconceptions, received ideas and prejudice.
4. Listen Actively – try to understand the situation from another’s point of view. This will involve asking questions and paraphrasing to understand how people feel, think and value the situation.
5. Resolution – Make the resolution the priority and not winning the battle for either side – a win is a short-term solution, whereas primal focus should be on building relationships.
6. Forget the Past – focus on the present and ultimately the future, the past is the past, it is finished – raking it up will ultimately entail blame which will not help in the resolution process. Blame and past resentments cloud the vision on the present and builds barriers towards the future and any chance of problem-solving.
7. Manage Priorities – Conflicts use time and can be emotionally draining – sometimes it is better to bow-out gracefully that wasting time, energy and emotional stress on conflicts – this doesn’t mean running-away or avoidance, but more looking at what demands priorities and time being spent on them.
8. Forgive – Be willing and able to forgive – which means that any notion of revenge, punishment, pride or blame need to be swept aside – for the greater good of conflict resolution, but also for your own sanity and energy levels.
9. Let Go – It is vital that you know when to let go of an issue – if you are unable to come to consensual agreement, it can sometime be beneficial to agree to disagree – once again the winning is not the important issue – resolution is though.
10. Be Objective – Stay clear of emotions and generalities – state facts as you see them and listen to the other side of the story. When we listen we not only connect more deeply to our own needs and emotions, but also to those of others – at this state, others are then able to hear us too.
11. Action Plan – Agree on what will happen, when it will happen, how it will happen and who will be responsible for what in real terms with clear milestones.
12. Relationships – Follow up on actions with the clear objective of maintaining relationships that have thus been built.
Conflict resolution should be viewed as a joint, positive process which culminates in a win-win situation.
The reality is that conflicts do not go away if they are ignored – they invariably get worse and more difficult to resolve.
I look forward to your comments and tips on conflict resolution.