Clarifying Confusion About Conflict
Conflict is when two or more values, perspectives and opinions are contradictory in nature and haven’t been aligned or agreed about yet, including:
- Within yourself when you’re not living according to your values;
- When your values and perspectives are threatened; or
- Discomfort from fear of the unknown or from lack of fulfillment.
Conflict is inevitable and often good, for example, good teams always go through a “form, storm, norm and perform” period. Getting the most out of diversity means often-contradictory values, perspectives and opinions.
Conflict is often needed. It:
- Helps to raise and address problems.
- Energizes work to be on the most appropriate issues.
- Helps people “be real”, for example, it motivates them to participate.
- Helps people learn how to recognize and benefit from their differences.
Conflict is not the same as discomfort. The conflict isn’t the problem – it is when conflict is poorly managed that is the problem.
Conflict is a problem when it:
- Hampers productivity.
- Lowers morale.
- Causes more and continued conflicts.
- Causes inappropriate behaviors.
Types of Managerial Actions that Cause Workplace Conflicts
1) Poor communications
- Employees experience continuing surprises, they aren’t informed of new decisions, programs, etc.
- Employees don’t understand reasons for decisions, they aren’t involved in decision-making.
- As a result, employees trust the “rumor mill” more than management.
2) The alignment or the amount of resources is insufficient. There is:
- Disagreement about “who does what”.
- Stress from working with inadequate resources.
3) “Personal chemistry”, including conflicting values or actions among managers and employees, for example:
- Strong personal natures don’t match.
- We often don’t like in others what we don’t like in ourselves.
4) Leadership problems, including inconsistent, missing, too-strong or uninformed leadership (at any level in the organization), evidenced by:
- Avoiding conflict, “passing the buck” with little follow-through on decisions.
- Employees see the same continued issues in the workplace.
- Supervisors don’t understand the jobs of their subordinates.
Key Managerial Actions / Structures to Minimize Conflicts
1) Regularly review job descriptions. Get your employee’s input to them. Write down and date job descriptions. Ensure:
- Job roles don’t conflict.
- No tasks “fall in a crack”.
2) Intentionally build relationships with all subordinates.
- Meet at least once a month alone with them in office.
- Ask about accomplishments, challenges and issues.
3) Get regular, written status reports and include:
- Currents issues and needs from management.
- Plans for the upcoming period.
4) Conduct basic training about:
- Interpersonal communications.
- Conflict management.
5) Develop procedures for routine tasks and include the employees’ input.
- Have employees write procedures when possible and appropriate.
- Get employees’ review of the procedures.
- Distribute the procedures.
- Train employees about the procedures.
6) Regularly hold management meetings, for example, every month, to communicate new initiatives and status of current programs.
7) Consider an anonymous suggestion box in which employees can provide suggestions.
Ways People Deal With Conflict
There is no one best way to deal with conflict. It depends on the current situation. Here are the major ways that people use to deal with conflict.
1) Avoid it. Pretend it is not there or ignore it.
Use it when it simply is not worth the effort to argue. Usually this approach tends
to worsen the conflict over time.
2) Accommodate it. Give in to others, sometimes to the extent that you compromise yourself.
Use this approach very sparingly and infrequently, for example, in situations
when you know that you will have another more useful approach in the very
near future. Usually this approach tends to worsen the conflict over time, and
causes conflicts within yourself.
3) Competing. Work to get your way, rather than clarifying and addressing the issue. Competitors love accommodators.
Use when you have a very strong conviction about your position.
4) Compromising. Mutual give-and-take.
Use when the goal is to get past the issue and move on.
5) Collaborating. Focus on working together.
- Use when the goal is to meet as many current needs as possible by using mutual resources.
- This approach sometimes raises new mutual needs.Use when the goal is to cultivate ownership and commitment.
To Manage a Conflict Within Yourself – “Core Process”
It’s often in the trying that we find solace, not in getting the best solution. The following steps will help you in this regard.
1) Name the conflict, or identify the issue, including what you want that you aren’t getting. Consider:
- Writing your thoughts down to come to a conclusion.
- Talk to someone, including asking them to help you summarize the conflict in 5 sentences or less.
2) Get perspective by discussing the issue with your friend or by putting it down in writing. Consider:
- How important is this issue?
- Does the issue seem worse because you’re tired, angry at something else, etc.?
- What’s your role in this issue?
3) Pick at least one thing you can do about the conflict.
- Identify at least three courses of action.
- For each course, write at least three pros and cons.
- Select an action – if there is no clear course of action, pick the alternative that will not hurt, or be least hurtful, to yourself and others.
- Briefly discuss that course of action with a friend.
4) Then do something.
- Wait at least a day before you do anything about the conflict. This gives you a cooling off period.
- Then take an action. Have in your own mind, a date when you will act again if you see no clear improvement.
To Manage a Conflict With Another – “Core Process”
1) Know what you don’t like about yourself, early on in your career. We often don’t like in others what we don’t want to see in ourselves.
- Write down 5 traits that really bug you when see them in others.
- Be aware that these traits are your “hot buttons”.
2) Manage yourself. If you and/or the other person are getting heated up, then manage yourself to stay calm by
- Speaking to the person as if the other person is not heated up – this can be very effective!
- Avoid use of the word “you” – this avoids blaming.
- Nod your head to assure them you heard them.
- Maintain eye contact with them.
3) Move the discussion to a private area, if possible.
4) Give the other person time to vent.
Don’t interrupt them or judge what they are saying.
5) Verify that you’re accurately hearing each other. When they are done speaking:}
- Ask the other person to let you rephrase (uninterrupted) what you are hearing from them to ensure you are hearing them.
- To understand them more, ask open-ended questions. Avoid “why” questions – those questions often make people feel defensive.
6) Repeat the above step, this time for them to verify that they are hearing you. When you present your position
- Use “I”, not “you”.
- Talk in terms of the present as much as possible.
- Mention your feelings.
7) Acknowledge where you disagree and where you agree.
8) Work the issue, not the person. When they are convinced that you understand them:
Ask “What can we do fix the problem?” They will likely begin to complain again.
Then ask the same question. Focus on actions they can do, too.
9) If possible, identify at least one action that can be done by one or both of you.
- Ask the other person if they will support the action.
- If they will not, then ask for a “cooling off period”.
10) Thank the person for working with you.
11) If the situation remains a conflict, then:
- Conclude if the other person’s behavior conflicts with policies and procedures in the workplace and if so, present the issue to your supervisor.
- Consider whether to agree to disagree.
- Consider seeking a third party to mediate.