Most executives acknowledge difficulty in dealing with conflict. Conflict comes in many guises. It can be person to person or group to group. It can be an in-house clash with direct reports and attendant personnel. Sometimes conflict occurs with external vendors, contractors, and consultants. It's not uncommon for conflict to worm its way into otherwise tight-knit leadership teams or fracture the relationship between community partners and leaders.
Conflict is omnipresent at union bargaining tables, in legal arenas, and is first-row center seat when bureaucrats and businessmen step into the ring. Depending on the size of the organization, conflict can morph into a mighty conflagration with the help of local and international media. Bottom line: any time people work together you have tinder stacked and ready for conflict.
Conflict is inevitable but its outcome depends on how it is managed. So how or when should executives deal with conflict? Sometimes the best decision is not to react and let time-bequeathed amnesia do the job. Sometimes, however, delaying a response can make the conflict worse. Conflict management isn't ever comfortable and is all too-often avoided to the peril of the leader and the business.
Conflict is like a dance when partners step on each other's toes while trying to figure out who's leading or even what dance step to employ. Oftentimes the dancers go back to their respective seats limping and eager to commiserate with other dancers on the maladroitness of their clumsy oaf partner and swearing never to dance with them again. Often, other injured dancers chime in and what was an interpersonal problem becomes class warfare and the embattled leader has to put business goals on the back burners and do foot rubs to keep the conflict under control.
Conflict handled timely and effectively is carried out more like a conversation than a confrontation. And while the conversation may not be easy, doing so timely and consistently and effectively results in better outcomes. It is less likely the other party will feel affronted or surprised if a repeat conversation is needed.
Here are seven ideas and scenarios that may help as you determine a course of action or your intervention:
- Make it a habit to keep the issues and conflicts between the parties and practice the art of not talking with others about something that doesn't involve them. As simple as this sounds venting to others typically makes matters worse and often word can get back to the person(s) being talked about. Gossip needs to stop if conflict is to be handled well.
Make it a habit to embrace rather than avoid conflict. If you deal with anything conflictual early into the process, the results are typically more favorable than letting an issue or conflict fester.