How to Manage Conflict

How to Manage Conflict“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, and debate.” Margaret Heffernan

Conflict is an inevitable part of growth. To manage conflict appropriately, you need to adopt a mindset that conflict is natural and productive. If you don’t adjust your mindset and view conflict as healthy and necessary, you can stifle the growth of your team and organization. Think about this scenario.

Nick is championing a change that he believes will be a huge win and he’s bulldozing his initiative and not taking “no” for an answer. Katie has a different perspective and sees the change as a risky investment that might yield short-term benefits but cause adverse reactions in the long run. Nick’s strong personality can be overwhelming for Katie. Even though she has the data to contradict Nick’s initiative, she’s reluctant to raise it as she despises conflict and doesn’t want to cause a disagreement on the team.

What do you want to happen? Would you rather have Katie avoid conflict to save team morale or challenge Nick’s initiative?

The answer is obvious, you would want Katie to challenge Nick.  Conflict is a part of doing business and it has many advantages that can directly impact your bottom line. As a leader, it is your job to ensure yourself and your team view conflict as a natural part of doing business, not something to be afraid of. Develop your team’s conflict management skills by sharing the tips below.

  1. Understand the problem, then the person. In the case of Katie and Nick, the conflict was about the initiative itself, not Nick. For people that avoid conflict, their natural tendency is to personalize the issue versus looking at the problem objectively. In this instance, Katie would be avoiding conflict just to appease Nick, despite having valid concerns about his initiativeDevelop your team to treat the problem, not the person.  Viewing conflict in this way will allow you and your team to manage conflict productively not personally.
  2. Set the goal of the conversation. When conflict arises, advise your team to collaborate to develop a shared goal to resolve the problem. Ask questions like, “what do want to achieve?” or “what is the most important thing to do here?” In the case above, the goal could be to create success for the organization. A shared goal can help parties connect and realize they are on the same team.
  3. Embrace face-to-face conversations when possible. This can be challenging for teams with remote employees but encourage them to conduct conversations over video chat if they cannot meet in person. Face-to-face conversations allow for ‘live’ feedback. There is less of a risk that communication and tone can be misinterpreted, which will help resolve the conflict faster.
  4. Practice reflecting. In conflict, active listening is essential. For both parties to come to an agreement they both need to feel that their ideas and information were heard by the other party. Reflecting is simply ‘mirroring’. It is repeating the information you heard back to the speaker to ensure you understood their point of view correctly. By repeating the information, you provide the speaker an opportunity to clarify any information to ensure you are both on the same page.
  5. Embrace mistakes. Encourage employees to take responsibility for their mistakes and then learn from them. If this is not done, the conflict can last longer and become more difficult to manage. The individual trying to “save face” can be a barrier to conflict resolution by withholding information or refusing to cooperate for fear of being wrong. Create a culture where failure and mistakes are embraced as part of the journey to success.