Diversity in the workplace is a double-edged sword. On one hand it provides the stimulus for new ideas and avoids group-think. On the other hand it can lead to conflict because of different opinions, interests and values. You need diversity so you have to learn to manage conflict.
“If we manage conflict constructively, we harness its energy for creativity and development.” ~ Kenneth Kay
People respond to their own perceptions of reality and everyone has a different perception of reality, none is any more “real” or “true” than any other. It’s also important to understand that people make the best choices available to them given possibilities and capabilities they perceive available to them within their model of the world. Any behaviour, no matter how strange or hurtful it seems is the best choice available to them at that point in time.
What this means is a person is not their behaviour and that every behaviour has a positive intent. If you can keep this in mind when conflict arises you can focus on the problem and not the person.
So how can you manage conflict constructively?
Four key things to do
1. Listen – Listening is important in all communication scenarios, even more important when there is conflict. Listening allows you to gather information – Who is involved, history, interest in resolving the issue and even potential solutions. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes’, see the issue through their eyes. Don’t interrupt. Clarify anything you aren’t clear about and confirm what you are hearing.
2. Common Ground – State the problem as you understand it and have the others build, clarify or confirm. If you can’t agree then shift up a level to something you can all agree on e.g. perhaps the conflict is around the strategy or action to get new business so move back to confirm that you all agree that you need more business to increase sales or that the three possible areas to get new business are xyz etc. Having common ground frees everyone up to finding a solution that is win-win.
3. Solutions focused – Be sure you start from common ground then brainstorm possible solution from all parties. Look at the pro’s and con’s of each. Use reframing to help loosen different perceptions. Utilise the ‘As if’ frame i.e. “if we solve this then…” Remember that if given another, more appropriate, choice it is more likely to be adopted (within the context of the persons view of the world).
4. Manage Emotions – Keep conversation respectful, no sarcasm or put-downs. Make “I” statements, don’t try to guess what others feel or play the blame game. Let the other person speak and don’t try and interpret the behaviour, look beyond that to the possible intent. Keep calm and lead rather than react.
If you can effectively manage conflict then you increase the chances of a positive outcome for everyone because you remain focused on the issue and not the person. That makes learning this skill a critical requirement for a leaders ‘tool belt’ and means you will always be in a better position to achieve goals.
Filed Under: HR
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