October 17, 2013 by Rick Brammer
“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Far be it for me to try and improve upon the words of Benjamin Franklin, but I think we can add conflict to that list. Because like it or not, if two (or more) people are in a marriage, a family, in the workplace—or anywhere together—conflict will arise. It’s really not a matter of if it will happen, but more of a when will it happen, kind of thing.
I remember back when I was much younger, I had a boss who avoided conflict at all costs. And even though I could see why he dodged dealing with it (conflict made him extremely uncomfortable) I could also see that not addressing it cost the organization plenty. I learned a lot from that boss—I learned a lot about how not to run a business.
Here’s the thing, when conflict is avoided or mismanaged it can cause great harm to an organization by damaging relationships that might leave people feeling hurt, misunderstood, resentful, or alienated which could snowball into turning the company’s culture toxic. But, if conflict is met head-on and resolved in a positive way—with respect—it can actually provide a great opportunity for a business to strengthen and grow relationships, build trust, motivate team members and make better comprehensive group decisions.
I’ve found that I like to build teams with divergent positions and personalities. Does conflict arise in these groups? You bet. And if the conflict within these groups is embraced and resolved properly and constructively it can inspire innovation, creativity, and learning in ways like-minded teams can’t possibly comprehend.
For me, there are four pillars to addressing conflict head-on. The first one is communication. I think we can all agree that a huge percentage of conflicts occur due to a lack of communication. And sometimes the best way to find if there has been a misunderstanding is not to talk, but to listen.
The second pillar is controlling emotions. Conflict can sometimes trigger emotions and while it is important to know how you feel about a situation, it is also vital not to let strong emotions get in the driver’s seat or a regrettable decision may follow. It’s also important for us all to realize that when we’re on the receiving end of a disagreement we might feel defensive (there go those emotions) even if people are not attacking us. It’s hard to listen when emotions are charged. When taken out of the equation there’s a greater chance of identifying a possible misunderstanding and clarifying your position.
The third pillar is defining acceptable behavior. Group leaders need to encourage open forums where disagreement is expressed freely or you could deprive the group of potentially valuable insight. But, there should be ground rules on how disagreement is expressed—it can’t be just a free-for-all. Sometimes it’s not about what you have to say, but how you say it that’s important. People need to be aware that the words they choose can affect others positively or negatively. Be sensitive to others; criticize the idea, not the person. If you want a cohesive group, leaders cannot allow personal attacks.
The fourth is to understand the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) facet. One way of resolving conflicts is to understand the other’s objective, their WIIFM factor and, when possible, help them achieve it. You will find very few people objecting to someone who is taking action that will help them achieve their goals.
Honestly, I believe that a resolution can be found as long as there is a genuine desire to do so by all parties involved. Embracing conflict and using the above strategies can help us all at home with family and friends, and when working with colleagues, clients, and consumers.
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