Manage conflict at work
Among the most important activities in a manager’s day is usually some form of conflict management. Many managers report that they dislike conflict, avoid conflict at all costs. Here I share three ideas to help you manage conflict in a way that results in “We did it our way” rather than “I did it my way”
Time is a factor when you manage conflict
Conflict is one of those things that can really eat up the time: anecdotally about a quarter of our time is spent dealing with conflict in private companies, and double that in the public sector. This isn’t just the “screaming and shouting” conflict. It’s the double booked meetings, the missed deadlines. All of which results in a lower level of stress and conflict. 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.
Conflict is a result of threat
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 can be healthy
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.
Setting ground rules
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 manage conflict with the rules for verbal combat carved in stone before the need arises.
1. Focus on facts
One of the lessons 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 by not focusing on facts 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.
3. Stimulate ideas
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.