Commerce: Managing conflict in the workplace
Conflict, in its simplest terms, is no more than a by-product of growth, change or innovation…it is inevitable. All of us experience conflict. We argue with our spouses, disagree with our friends and sometimes even quarrel with strangers on the street. At times we lose sight of the fact that all this conflict is normal. So long as people are individuals, there will be the potential for conflict.
That’s the first thing to learn about conflict. It isn’t wrong or bad; it’s just part of being a person in contact with other people. The only people who don’t experience conflict are hermits. Since you can’t prevent conflict, the most important thing is to learn how to handle or manage it in productive ways. In many industries, the amount of time spent on conflict management is surprisingly high. A study by the American Management Association (AMA) says that managers spend at least 24 percent of their time on managing conflict. Hospital administrators, school administrators, mayors and city managers spend even more time on this problem area. What is critical for resolving conflict is developing and understanding of, and a trust in, shared goals. It requires openness, discipline and creativity. Showing respect for other people and not blaming them enables people to work for mutual benefit.
Since conflict is perfectly normal, we should expect it to occur, just like death and taxes. We must accept its existence. Trying to stop all conflict is a waste of our time and energy. Besides, not all conflict is undesirable. Conflict can have either constructive or destructive effects, and we must have a good sense as to when it is something we want to eliminate and when it is something we want to build on.
There are three basic types of conflict: inner conflict, interpersonal conflict and team or group conflict. Inner conflict can be difficult to recognize, yet in many ways this conflict is the most difficult to live with. This type of conflict is of-ten about questions of integrity, values and ethics – about doing the “right” thing verses what you “want” to do. Suppose you’ve just been offered the opportunity to apply for a promotion. Part of you wants to go for it. You are long overdue a raise and you know you can do the job. However, another part of you recognizes that you could try and quite possibly fail. That might be worse than never trying at all. Besides, you are comfortable right now. You know your job and you could do it blindfolded. Do you really need the headache of a new job? This is an example of inner conflict.
Interpersonal conflict is conflict between two or more people, and it may be caused by a number of different factors which include prejudice or bias, sensitivity and hurt, differences in values, differences over facts, differences over goals, differences over methods, competition for scarce resources, competition for supremacy, misunderstanding and unfulfilled expectations.
Group or team conflict may very well be relatively independent of the individuals occupying the roles within the structure. For example, conflicts between marketing and production are fairly common. The marketing department, being customer-oriented, may believe some expectations can and should be made in production for the sake of future sales. The production department may view such expectations as unreasonable and not in the best interests of the organization.
So what causes conflict in the work place? Its roots can be any single issue or combination of issues that include, but are not limited to, poor or no communication, poor time management, lack of leadership and management, to personality conflicts and/or even personal problems that are brought into the work place.
There are no magical phrases or simple procedures for managing conflict. However, there are several strategies for coping with conflict. When handled correctly, conflict can promote better communication, guarantee achieving a desired result and improve employee morale and productivity. The first step toward resolving conflict is for individuals to try to resolve the conflict with each other. Being able to resolve conflict with each other helps individuals learn how to confront each other, managing clearly state the issue, listen to each other, and work together to find a mutually acceptable solution. The benefit to this step is that individuals learn a highly critical skill for now and the future, and become more valuable team members.
If the two individuals are not successful with a one-on-one meeting, you may need to take the second step toward resolving the conflict by allowing the manager or supervisor to intercede. Begin by bringing the two individuals together with clear goals and an expected outcome. Rules and guidelines on how the meeting will be conducted should be established.
If the first two steps are not successful, or if the conflict involves the manager or supervisor, involve human resources. Human resource professionals generally have excellent skills and/or contacts with people who specialize in mediation and conflict resolution for conflict situations requiring this level of expertise.
Tools to help your team deal with conflict quickly and effectively:
• Attack the problem, not the person!
• Focus on what can be done, not on what can’t be done.
• Encourage different points of view and honest dialogue.
• Express feelings in a way that does not blame.
• Accept ownership appropriately for your part of the problem.
• Listen to understand the other person’s point of view before giving your own.
• Show respect for the other person’s point of view.
• Solve the problem while building the relationship.
Conflict may be your biggest barrier to achieving success. You should therefore commit yourself to mastering an effective conflict management style. Focus on a personal goal that will motivate you to manage conflict on a constant basis. By doing so, you will personally reap the benefits of stronger relationships, increased self-respect and personal development and growth. At the organizational level, you will see improved efficiency and effectiveness, an increase in creative thinking and a more synergistic work place.
A former business owner herself and graduate of the Urban Hope Entrepreneur program out of Green Bay, Michelle Madl-Soehren is currently the business development coordinator for Nicolet Area Technical College, where she assists and coaches new and existing entrepreneurs and small business owners with business plan development, provides professional development workshops throughout the area and coordinates and teaches Nicolet College’s eSeed Entrepreneur Program. She holds a baccalaureate degree from Mount Mary College in behavioral science and a master’s in management and organizational behavior from Silver Lake College. Madl-Soehren is also the current president of Northwoods Women in Business and past president of the Northwoods Entrepreneurs Club, and sits on the state advisory board for the Small Business Development Centers. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (715) 365-4492.