How do you manage conflict? It’s not a complicated question but one that often results in loaded complicated answers. We sat down to investigate 2 different approaches to managing conflict and the outcomes of each approach. Let’s examine these examples of conflict management a little more closely.
Person 1- Jane
Jane recently had to manage conflict within her organisation. Jane manages a small team of accountants. Each highly skilled and experienced. Recently two of team members were embroiled in a heated debate reading how to proceed with a client . What began as a simple disagreement between process quickly escalated into a tense interpersonal conflict within her workplace. Two of her team members refused to reach an agreement on work and began criticizing and name calling each other. Some weeks have passed since this incident and the central issues remain, though the staff seem to have moved on.
We asked Jane how she chose to approach this situation. Her response was alarming and not surprising. Jane mentioned that she preferred to allow her staff to work out these issues on their own. Jane didn’t feel as though she needed to step in a help resolve the conflict.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon approach by many managers when it comes to conflict resolution. Not everyone is keen to resolve conflict in an organisation or workplace let alone in their personal lives. Jane felt that because her team were mostly working remotely that the conflict didn’t really need tending to. Many conflict management examples tend to ascribe to this level of thinking. That is, if it doesn’t happen in front of me, I don’t need to deal with it.
Unfortunately, the problem with this example is that unless you navigate conflict, it doesn’t go away. Just because her team member hasn’t spoken of it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Often conflict festers under the surface and manifests in behaviour later.
By doing nothing, Jane is making it clear that this type of conflict is acceptable within her team. Jane should be proactive in her management of conflict and commit some time to objectively understanding what happened and why? Investing time into understanding and resolving conflict ensures it doesn’t happen again, makes it clear what behaviours are and are nor acceptable and promotes a harmonious workplace.
Person 2 Sue
Sue recently completed some internal training on conflict management. Sue particularly found the tips and techniques that were shared especially useful. Sue managed to unpack a recent online conflict she had been involved in. Sue had been noticing some rising tension between herself and a colleague. Sue had been collaborating with her colleague on a task for a major client. Seemingly out of the blue Sue’s colleague, with whom she usually has a great relationship, became quite short and aggressive with her on a team call. Sue didn’t react on the call but followed up in an email where her colleague responded nastily. Her colleague accused Sue of taking credit for all the work on the task and suggested that she was discrediting all the hard work her colleague had put in.
Sue chose to use this this example during the training session she had attended. The issue was still very active in her workplace, and she desperately wanted to understand the best way to work through this issue without causing damage to her relationship with her colleague. The training Sue attended provided her with the tools and skills to manage the conversation with her colleague is a proactive fashion. The training company she approached shared conflict management examples and case studies that were very similar to her situation. Together they worked through what had happened step by step.
Sue spent time understanding the data, assumptions, emotions and behaviours for herself and her colleague. Sue prepared for a conversation with her colleague. The aim of the conversation was not to retaliate or react but rather understand what had happened and what her colleague may be assuming that led them to this impasse. Sue framed the conversation in an open and productive fashion. After some discussion Sue and her colleague where able to pinpoint what had gone wrong. Sue was grateful for the training she had attended as it allowed her to plan for execute and evaluate the conversation. She was able to restore and strengthen the relationship with her colleague.
Resolving and managing conflict is all about the choices you make. We can choose to engage and name calling, this often escalates a conflict. Or we can take the path less travelled but more beneficial. We can have the hard conversation full of emotion and self-reflection. It’s the latter conversation the harder choice that will always give us the best result when it comes to conflict.