By: Dana Haggard
The word conflict carries a lot of negative baggage, and most people seek to avoid it. However, as any businessperson will tell you, conflict will eventually happen. Conflict is a natural and necessary part of doing business, so managers who seek to eliminate all forms of conflict in their workplace are not doing themselves, their employees, or their businesses any favors. Just because no one mentions any conflict to their manager does not mean that none exist, or that these unacknowledged conflicts have no negative impacts.
Properly handled, functional conflict challenges the status quo and spurs the company forward to improvement. Dysfunctional conflict is a drag on the company and a waste of time and other valuable resources. A manager who can properly differentiate between the two and apply the appropriate conflict management style will be better equipped to deal with the inevitable.
1) Start by being open to negative information. You cannot solve problems you do not know about, and reacting badly to negative information will only discourage your employees from bringing issues to your attention.
3) Keep an open mind and do your best to remain impartial. Fairness matters — not just the fairness of the outcome, but also the fairness of the process.
4) Resist the urge to offer an immediate solution before hearing the person out. You do not want the other person to get the impression that you think the issue is trivial or that you think they have not considered solutions before approaching you.
5) Be willing to ask “why” until you get to the root cause of the problem. This will help the parties focus on their underlying interests rather than their declared positions.
6) Strongly advocate for the parties to come to a win-win solution with your assistance, but recognize that such an outcome might not be possible. If you might have to make a decision that could be unpopular, own that possibility up front.
It can be tempting to default to compromise and tell the parties to “split the difference” in order to force an agreement. However, forced agreements rarely satisfy anyone, especially when both parties have had to give something up. Thus, the importance of discussing the underlying interests rather than only the positions. Defending positions locks people into a zero-sum game mindset and prevents them from thinking of creative solutions that could benefit everyone. The parties need to understand the ways they are interdependent and how their working together can benefit everyone.
Dana L. Haggard is an associate professor of management at Missouri State University. Her teaching and research interests include organizational behavior and interpersonal relationships in the workplace.
This article appeared in the October 14, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here