Dealing with Conflict

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The issues surrounding conflict resolution can be best summed-up in three words…”Deal With It“. Conflict Resolution is a skill set necessary for survival in today’s business world. While you can try and avoid conflict (bad idea), you cannot escape conflict…The fact of the matter is that conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. It will find you whether you look for it (good idea) or not. The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of conflict, and to be able to bring swift and fair resolution to conflict will serve you well as a senior executive or entrepreneur. In today’s blog post I’ll share my perspective on the art and science of conflict resolution.

How many times over the years have you witnessed otherwise savvy professionals self-destruct because they wouldn’t engage out of a fear of conflict? Putting one’s head in the sand and hoping that conflict will pass you by is not the most effective methodology for problem solving. Conflict rarely resolves itself…In fact, conflict normally escalates if not dealt with proactively and properly. It is not at all uncommon to see what might have been a non-event manifest itself into a monumental problem if not resolved early on. Remember that sleeping dogs all wake-up at some point in time.

Developing effective conflict resolution skill sets are an essential component of a building a sustainable business model. Unresolved conflict often results in a loss of productivity, stifles creativity, and creates barriers to cooperation. While conflict is a normal part of any social and organizational setting, the challenge of conflict lies in how one chooses to deal with it. Concealed or avoided, conflict will likely fester only to grow into resentment, create withdrawal or cause factional infighting within an organization.

So, what creates conflict in the workplace? Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, just someone having a bad day, etc. While the answer to the previous question would appear to lead to the conclusion that just about anything and everything creates conflict, the reality is that the root of most conflict is either born out of poor communication or the inability to control one’s emotions. Let’s examine these 2 major causes of conflict:

Communication: I’ve heard it said that 90% of all problems in business could be avoided with better communication. My personal opinion is the number is closer to 50% (with the remaining 50% being caused by unmanaged emotions). If you reflect back upon conflicts you have encountered over the years you’ll quickly recognize that many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information, or misinformation. Let’s assume for a moment that you were lucky enough to have received good information but didn’t know what to do with it…That is still a communication problem, which can in turn lead to conflict. Clear, concise, accurate, and timely communication of information will help to ease both the number and severity of conflicts.

Emotions: Another common mistake made in workplace communications that leads to conflict is letting emotions drive decisions. I have observed countless examples of people who jeopardize their future to indulge their emotions, when what they should have done was protect their future by exhibiting control over their emotions. I have witnessed otherwise savvy executives place the need for emotional superiority ahead of achieving their mission (not that they always understood this at the time). Case in point…have you ever witnessed an employee throw a fit of rage and resign their position in the heat of the moment? If you have, what you really watched was a person indulging their emotions rather than protecting their future.

The very bane of human existence, which is in fact human nature itself, will always create gaps in thinking and philosophy and no matter how much we all wish it wasn’t so…it is. So the question then becomes how to effectively deal with conflict when it arises.

It is essential for organizational health and performance that conflict be accepted and addressed through effective conflict resolution processes. While having a conflict resolution structure is important, effective utilization of conflict resolution processes is ultimately dependant upon the ability of all parties to understand the benefits of conflict resolution, and perhaps more importantly, their desire to resolve the matter. The following tips will help to more effective handle conflicts in the workplace:

  1. Define Acceptable Behavior: You know what they say about assuming…Just having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Creating a framework for decisioning, using a published delegation of authority statement, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help avoid conflicts. Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them and a well articulated chain of command to allow for effective communication will also help avoid conflicts.
  2. Hit Conflict Head-on: While you can’t always prevent conflicts, it has been my experience that the secret to conflict resolution is in fact conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a fair and decisive fashion you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If a conflict does flair up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly.
  3. Understanding the WIIFM Factor: Understanding the other professionals WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand other’s motivations prior to weighing in. The way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.
  4. The Importance Factor: Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. However if the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional gaps.
  5. View Conflict as Opportunity: Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity. 

Bottom line…I believe resolution can normally be found with conflicts where there is a sincere desire to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener, service above self, and numerous other approaches will always allow one to be successful in building rapport if the underlying desire is strong enough.

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