Conflicts are a fact of life. People will always disagree on something. Although we hate them, conflicts are often the most honest feedback that we get about any situation. They offer the greatest opportunities to find the most effective ways to work with others. When conflicts occur, it means at least one member of a group is being honest. The moment we recognize conflicts as sincere feedback, we will begin to view them as opportunities.
Conflicts can occur for any number of reasons, and they will often appear in the most unlikely places over the most insignificant things. When people who are meant to cooperate are unable to do so, you have a conflict. Disagreements might be over communication methods, personality styles, priorities, time or money. There can be as many reasons for conflict as there are people, but in the end what matters most is how conflict is resolved.
Most conflicts will usually be either cognitive or affective. Cognitive disagreements are work-related issues, such as differences over the details of how a task is carried out. Affective conflicts, on the other hand, are personality clashes. They are the results of team members not liking one another. As a rule, cognitive debates can enrich the work experience of a team, as long as they do not become personal. But it’s important to note that affective conflicts can often be disguised as cognitive disagreements.
Becoming Proactive in Resolving Conflicts
The number one rule for problem-solving is to accept that problems rarely go away of their own accord. A problem left to itself, often degenerates rather than diminishes. Therefore, the first step in conflict resolution is to accept the responsibility for taking action, especially if you are the team leader. Find the elephant in the room! Passivity is not a recommended option for solving problems, because personal conflicts within organizational teams have a way of spiraling out of control until the team’s purpose becomes unachievable.
People often avoid dealing with conflicts to get away from negative emotions or for fear that talking about fractious issues will affect a group’s ability to work together. But a team leader’s role is to get results not just make people happy; people-pleasing and approval-seeking behavior are only appropriate in an avuncular role where the goal is happiness. But if you are in a position where there are set goals, limited time, assigned responsibilities for team members and a risk of losing money or opportunity, you must resolve conflicts.
Nothing is guaranteed to destroy the cohesion, direction and motivation of a team faster than conflicts that are allowed to simmer. Team members who have low-tolerance for emotional turmoil will wear themselves out trying to ease the tension. Such people soon get discouraged and lose all interest in the group. While those team members who thrive on conflict will capitalize on divisions to build their power base, and use the team to for their own personal ends. Either way, the group becomes polarized, de-motivated and unproductive.
Finding Preferred Conflict Management Style
The reality is that we all have different styles for managing conflict. People will lean a little more toward one style than the others. We may be predominantly accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, competing or compromising in the way we manage conflict. What is important is recognizing your principal style and assessing whether it actually solves problems. A problem-solving method that doesn’t solve problems at all is not a problem-solving method but a coping mechanism.
Additionally, people may be frontal or indirect in resolving conflict. They may prefer one-on-one communication or go through layers of 3rd and 4th parties. Some people are verbal, others are non-verbal. Some will employ formal procedures, while others prefer informal channels. Whatever methods you choose, it has to be appropriate to the situation and effective at solving the problem.
Tips For Managing Conflicts
Here are a few steps for finding and resolving conflicts:
– Look Out For Trouble: One thing you can expect from a group is that no one wants to be the one to tell the leader that so-and-so members of the group do not like each other. You have to be sensitive enough to read the body language of team members or the atmosphere of a room.
– Identify The Gladiators: These are the principal persons involved in a conflict. They will usually be team members who are excessively forceful, fussy, free-spirited or full of themselves. These four types will find abundant opportunities for disagreeing.
– Recognize The Cheer-Leaders: They are not directly involved but take sides with one of the gladiators. These kinds stoke the flames of trouble by spreading the conflict through the group and forcing people to take sides. Managing them is hard because they can be irrational.
– Find The Hidden Cause: Frequently, the issues identified as the problem by the contestants will be a ruse. The true problem is usually wounded egos, a sense of entitlement, envy and insecurity. Identify it but do not discuss it. Use this knowledge to guide your resolution of the problem rather than to confront people with. If you let them what you think the underlying issues are, you make them more resistant.
– Minimize The Problem: This is not the same as avoiding the problem. You minimize a problem when you refuse to be drawn into the emotional maelstrom of the parties at war. Doing so helps them gain perspective and observe their own overreactions so they can correct themselves.
– Attack Problems, Not People: Performance and deadline pressures can combine with personal feelings to make a team lose objectivity, especially when conflicts arise. A team leader must keep discussions issues-based versus people-based; never letting them degenerate into blame games or standoffs. This is why a team must craft its team agreement from the outset, to serve as the guiding document to direct the conduct of its members.
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