Conflict management is one of the most prevalent activities for a manager
Among the most prevalent activities in a manager’s day is usually some form of conflict management. It’s one of those things that can eat up the most amount of time, and chances are, for most of us, is our least favorite activity.
Managers in our development programs have shared that they spend half their time in some sort of conflict based situation. The odd thing is that most managers believe that that’s about the right amount of time that they should spend on it though that may be the case only because it has been the norm for such a long time. Fundamentally, all conflicts are the result of a threat. It can be a large one or just a small one, but it is a threat nevertheless.
It could be something as significant as missing out on an expected bonus because of a serious disagreement with the boss at appraisal time, or as trivial as who has to take out the trash at the end of the day. But the threat is real. It comes from the perception that that person will lose something as a result of whatever action is about to be taken.
Conflict, however, can actually be beneficial for all concerned if it’s handled correctly. That’s because it can teach all parties valuable lessons.
The problem with many conflicts is that from the outset, the best that can be hoped for is a win-lose situation. It’s a zero-sum game, and everyone knows it. This winner-take-all scenario, however, really benefits no one. And that means that everyone needs to identify what an ideal solution will look like for them before the debate even begins.
Of course, this is easier said than done, especially among those who hold strong views. That’s why the ground rules have to be established first.
One of the best ways to do this is to have all parties create those rules before they need them. Granted, this is not always possible. Conflicts can flare up when you least expect them. But the time to prepare for these challenges is not when they occur, but rather when peace reigns.
You already know that those who have a hand in any decision are more likely to support it when things get tough. And it’s the manager’s or the team leader’s job to see to it that the rules for verbal combat are carved in stone before the need arises.
One of the lessons that people will learn as a result of creating these rules is how to make their points without resorting to acrimony – to do so with facts, rather than volume, and in the most professional way possible. The loss of self-esteem can be just as devastating as forfeiting something that’s tangible. Broken relationships are much harder to heal.
Another lesson is that conflict resolution, in most cases, depends on a certain amount of compromise. It’s rare for both parties to agree entirely with the other person; and so learning these negotiating skills can be especially valuable as employees move into jobs that carry greater responsibility, or into positions that have a selling component.
The third lesson is that conflict can be used to stimulate ideas. We tend to think of this more in terms of a discussion, but when different views are expressed, then the potential is there for things to be said that shouldn’t be, and for everything to get completely out of hand.
Conflict should be seen as a good thing in organizations. It can generate good ideas and teach valuable lessons. But in order for it to work to everyone’s benefit, it must be handled in a courteous way, with rules established in advance that everyone adheres to; because without them a civilized discussion can deteriorate into a verbal brawl.