Leadership for Life – Resolving Conflict

By on March 15, 2013
Leadership for Life - Resolving Conflict

Our Leadership experts will be sharing tips and insights for everyone, at any station in life, at both home and work. Leadership for Life – the skills you embrace represent who you really are at all times.

One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to resolve conflict among individuals and groups within the organization. If conflict is left to fester, it can lead to all sorts of trouble within work teams and the organization as a whole. Among others, these might include:

  • Shattered trust/relationships
  • Lowered productivity
  • Loss of revenue and a drop in profits
  • Poor customer service – both internally and externally

The hair trigger response might be, “Let’s eliminate conflict.” But is that really what we want to do? An organization without conflict may be at risk for groupthink, which my regular readers know is anathema to a successful organization. A better response would be, “Let’s learn how to manage and resolve conflict so it benefits us, rather than damages us.”

Conflict is natural whenever you have a diversity of experience, points of view, skills, motivations, et al. Successful management and resolution of conflict are a result of paying attention to whether (normal) differences are escalating to damaging discord. If you’re seeing communication breakdowns, negative body language, high levels of stress among employees, or inflammatory words/actions (among other signs), then you need to intervene to prevent damage.

Sometimes, organizational systems themselves can lead to conflict, as when different departments have clashing priorities. Personal history between colleagues can sometimes lead to issues between them. Short tempers stemming from personal concerns being brought into the work place can also lead to misunderstandings.

Effective leaders will try to facilitate resolution of work place conflict. This may require active intervention in the form of coaching or mediation. Ignoring the conflict (hoping it will go away) or simply taking charge will effectively enable unproductive conflict to continue unchecked.

Once you decide to intervene, beware the “tell ’em what to do” trap. Among the top skills used in resolving conflict are:

  • Listening (for both facts and feelings). When people are hot under the collar, sometimes a simple acknowledgement of their feelings (“Wow, you’re really angry!”) can defuse the energy and bring them to the point of readiness to seek workable solutions.
  • Asking the right questions, both to clarify the situation and to encourage the parties to be part of the solution. Mostly these are open-ended questions that encourage them to see things from other perspectives and think of possible solutions.

Conflict resolution isn’t easy. Sometimes you get caught up in the emotions and lose your own objectivity. Being aware of your own feelings is crucial to successful coaching or mediating. Some of you might be surprised to learn that preparing what you will ask, rather than what you will say, is the essence of effective conflict resolution. You’ll know you’re being effective in your intervention when you begin to hear people talking in a less threatening, judgmental manner, and when they begin focusing more on facts, listening more objectively, and making clear commitments to resolving their differences in the best interests of the team or organization.

Want to know more? Call or write: 314-539-5329, bschapiro@stlcc.edu.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

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