Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Managing Conflict in the Workplace

We are in the business of revenue generating activities – helping our clients grow their sales. Why then do we even discuss a topic like conflict management?

In numerous engagements and client interactions we’ve continued to have employees come to us requesting help in dealing with difficult co-worker situations. We talk about behavioral style and the implicit communication issues frequently. This is at the root of many troubling relationships; however, there is another area that we haven’t addressed but which we recognize as a real source of concern in most organizations. Put simply:

People don’t know how to comfortably and publicly disagree.

Many of you might think, “But we disagree all the time in our organization.” Think about it, how many firms have a way to disagree – “constructive conflict” – that leads to negotiation, problem solving, and consensus building? Most firms have someone that ultimately makes a decision or someone who is so forceful that they call the shots. Does this mean that the best, or even good, decisions are being made?

We would argue no. However, is the answer to unleash on your associates and “let ‘em have it” every time you don’t agree? A  Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Upside of Anger: Some Use It as a Shield Against Work, Others” (October 11, 2005) talks about the problems inherent in this approach.

We coach clients and individual employees on the following approach to disagreement:

  • Recognize that no one is going to get hurt purely as a result of disagreement – it is the style with which we disagree that hurts other people.
  • Approach others with an interest to truly understand their position. Stephen Covey’s rule of seeking to understand before you seek to be understood applies here.
  • Get behind the eyes of the other person – try to step outside of your own position and really look at it differently from another vantage point.
  • Become objective – it is a disagreement, not the end of the world.
  • State your own position clearly and in detail. Don’t assume – what is clear to you is probably not clear to me.
  • Don’t bring in others or quote other people, “I’m not the only one who thinks this.”
  • Be clear what you are trying to accomplish – what would a successful outcome look like?
  • Don’t make a decision in the first conversation – exchange ideas and give each other (or the people involved) a chance to sleep on it. Things look much different the next day when you’ve had a chance to process something.
  • Lastly, remember the most important thing is to be truthful and honest without being personal and hurtful toward someone else.

Sounds simple? Not often do we see folks actually implementing this approach. Try it – you just may find it works for you.