William Ellery Channing said, “Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” Conflict rears its head all the time, and how it is managed can save, destroy, or even enrich relationships whether personal or professional. We’ve all had conflict in the workplace before and it caused us to have negative outlooks on our co-workers, managers, or even place of employment. Conflict management is the practice of reading problems amongst co-workers in a balanced way through effective communication and creative problem solving.
Many managers think that conflict is all a part of life, or people working together. It can’t be avoided and it should be better left in the hands of HR and that it may be best if he or she didn’t touch it. But, a lack of conflict management has its cost on team cohesion as well as company finances. Conflicts in the workplace can snowball out of control causing people to skip out on work in order to avoid the problems presented there.
For example, a disagreement at work causes two members of a team to start verbally attacking one another, eventually, in an attempt to avoid this daily conflict, one or both team members show up less to work. If this conflict is not dealt with properly the situation can only go from bad to worse. “According to a CPP study (2008), 85% of employees have to deal with conflict to some degree and 29% do so “always” or “frequently.” Of those 85%, 25% of employees said that avoiding conflict led to sickness or absence from work” The financial costs of poor conflict management can be staggering! But, lets focus a bit more on the personal level of conflict, How to properly deal with conflict, fostering positive conflict
Finally, and added bonus as to how to use task managers like Runrun.it to prevent conflicts from ever happening.
Types of conflict
In order to start talking about methods of dealing with conflict we first have to have a talk about what types of conflicts there are, and how to identify them. In conflict management there are in general only two types of conflict. There is positive conflict, which in my opinion is where all conflict starts. A difference in opinions about a subject leads to active disagreement with the other person just because they didn’t like your idea. And then there is negative conflict, somewhere along the lines things got a bit personal and are unproductive.
Positive conflict is what many managers strive for. It isn’t a personal attack on another co-worker. Rather, it is argument that challenges the idea put forth by a co-worker. And using conflict management in order to achieve opportunities. For example, say you are in a meeting discussing a project and the project manager is talking about possible risks for a part of the project. Well, now two members of the team start talking about 2 different ways of how to deal with the risk but they both think their idea is better than the other. This is (with mediation) positive conflict, its productive, it generates ideas and conversation. Without conflict management, this idea becomes negative conflict.
Negative conflict normally comes about when a team member feels that their ideas or person was attacked on a personal level. These types of conflict are not progressive and usually spawn from missed opportunities from when the discussion of an idea turned into insults and proper conflict management was not used to avoid the conflict going negative.
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Conflict resolution strategies
The heart and soul of conflict management lies in how they are resolved. Each conflict has to be treated on a case-by-case basis. Managers first need to study the conflict and use the correct strategy, a preemptive strike is necessary to have the best effect. The FAO corporate document repository states:
“A manager should be able to see emerging conflicts and take appropriate pre-emptive action. The manager should understand the causes creating conflict, the outcome of conflict, and various methods by which conflict can be managed in the organization. With this understanding, the manager should evolve an approach for resolving conflicts before their disruptive repercussions have an impact on productivity and creativity.”
Now, let’s take a look at the 5 conflict resolution strategies.
- Compromise (lose/lose)
The compromise method of conflict resolution is a method that calls both parties to set their differences aside and give up a bit of what each other wants in order to reach a common ground that both sides can be content with. Normally this strategy is used when both parties are equally powerful in an organization and are willing to work together. Some of the problems when using this method is that after agreements are met both parties can be left unsatisfied, or that both can start with extreme positions on each side of the candlestick. Compromise, can at times, be time consuming and if applied to all conflicts, can be resource consuming.
It is a good idea to use the ‘’compromise’’ conflict management strategy when:
- When the solution reached effects both parties involved for a long period of time I.E. Union contracts;
- When maintaining the relationship holds more value than the tangible outcomes of the disagreement;
Lets say for example that for example the entire delivery team of your company wants to be paid $7,000 more per year. However, the company only wants to give a $4,000 increase in the driver contract. Through long negotiations, the company offers to give a $5,500 increase in the pay. Dejected, the drivers agree to the pay increase even though it wasn’t everything that they wanted. In the end both parties were not able to get what they wanted so both lost, but there was an agreement.
- Accommodation (lose/win)
I sure everyone reading this has found themselves in the accommodation situation before, saying to themselves with a deeply dejected sigh ‘’fine, ok’’ When the Accommodation method is used in conflict management one side takes a passive position essentially giving up their side of the argument for the other side to win. Sometimes keeping the peace is better but it does have it’s drawbacks for sure. Over usage of the accommodation method could lead to team members feeling “accommodating” and put a real drag on productivity due to feeling unimportant. Accommodation puts people in a weak position and this could lead to more conflict later on.
Normally the accommodation method is used:
- When one side is hopelessly outmatched by individuals in power;
- When one side knows they are wrong, and the other option is better;
- When maintaining a good relationship is more important than the issue at hand.
Imagine you have an idea for improving the business processes of the company but your boss already has plans for another plan of action. You try relentlessly to express your ideas, PowerPoints, long well thought out texts, the whole nine yards. In the end your boss is who makes the final decision and stepping on his/her toes may cause problems in the long run, so instead of competing. You shrug your shoulders and give up on your idea.
- Avoiding (lose/lose)
Let’s talk about that some other day, when there is a conflict presented to you and you don’t want to deal with it, you are choosing the avoiding conflict management style. By side stepping the conflict you are trying not to step on anyone’s toes diplomatically or you want to postpone making a decision. If you are easily angered, this could be a good tactic to use to avoid for a time and rethink the situation. By avoiding the conflict, nobody wins, because nothing is resolved. If overused the conflict can worsen or can backfire.
It’s a good idea to use avoidance when:
- The imbalance in power is too great and resolving the issue isn’t seen as important enough to lose sleep over;
- If a problem regarding the issue will be resolved in another way i.e. company policy changes.
The age old conflict, “I want more money” the worker says to the manager. The manager tells the employee to talk about the issue again next week because he needs time to discuss the problem. Management next week decided to avoid the problem again telling the employee that they “cannot talk about it until performance reviews“. The conflict therefore has now been put off until a further date for discussion.
- Competition (win/lose)
This method of conflict resolution pits two entities against one another, and is heavily competitive. People who usually decide to use this conflict resolution strategy are normally highly power-driven individuals. These conflicts can be won by any way seen fit i.e. argument of ideas, pulling rank, or using leverage you may have. Though competition breeds problems, this conflict resolution strategy ought to be thought about more deeply before firing off at the hip. Dale Eilerman from mediate.com writes in his article “While competing can be productive it can also cause problems when used excessively or inappropriately. It can lead to misuse of power, fraudulent acts, and unethical or illegal activity” In the end one party wins and the other loses meaning that the ideas of the other party did not “win”(weren’t recognized)
Some examples of when to use the competitions conflict resolution strategy would be:
- When one party being correct is more important than the relationship with the other;
- When unavoidable choices need to be made i.e. layoffs, cost cutting, enforcing rules;
- When a swift decision is necessary i.e. Safety concerns, quick decisions.
An example of the “competition” conflict resolution strategy would be the situation of a team member and a manager arguing that the product a vendor is creating for the project can be improved through some other method. The manager uses the competition method by telling the team member that he has already taken the authority and signed the contract with the vendor, nothing more at this point can be discussed.
- Collaboration (win/win)
The grand poohbah of conflict management strategies, collaboration is what every manager strives for in conflict resolutions. The opposite of avoiding, collaboration takes the conflict head on in an attempt to put the two ideas together in an attempt to utilize the strengths of both parties involved. This technique requires the use of interpersonal communication to get both conflicting sides onto the same page. By trying to collaborate the two parties conflict, the parties in two ways, not only is the idea surrounding the current problem fortified, but it turns an argument into teamwork, when in turn increases cohesion. In the end both sides end up in a win-win situation. One of the drawbacks of using this method is that it is time and resource consuming. Using this method for every conflict is unrealistic.
Try using collaboration when:
- The environment is team based;
- Long term interpersonal relationships are necessary;
- An opportunity for cohesion building is needed.
Two team members are arguing about the best way to manage costs, based on their previous experiences and they just cannot come to an agreement. The manager has to step in and hear out both of the ideas. While both are good, they need to be trimmed down. The manager holds a meeting to see if other team members can push the two ideas together in a form that is fitting for all. The two original parties don’t feel as if they are at each other’s throat anymore, rather, as if they are closer as a team.
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Push positive conflict
In the example given about conflict solved through collaboration, positive conflict was brought about as the end product. A team that has been tested, and works better together because of a bit of friction. If they are handled correctly conflicts can be used as a method of growth, and cohesion building. Let’s look at a couple ways how pushing positive conflict can help boost teamwork and productivity!
Conflict can help improve productivity
One of the hardest things to do as a manager is to get your team in the zone, to get their 100% effort into the project or tasks without having to dangle the fact that they can be fired for not doing so. When managers change the motivator at work to winning something over another, the motivator is now proving that your idea is better suited for the situation, it was made personal. Managers can use the competing conflict resolution strategy and push employees to delve deeper into their ideas, how they both correspond with the project, all the while encouraging other team members to take part.
Conflict management can improve your meetings.
Have you ever had a meeting where everyone sat around just nodding their heads? Everyone saying “Yeah that’s a good idea”, “OK let’s go with that” without any real discussion. There isn’t any real input into the content of the meeting, and it creates A. a boring meeting, and B. a less productive meeting. Groupthink is a disease in meetings, and its extremely common, because nobody wants to start conflict with a person in power. This is where conflict is needed the most!
One of the best ways to destroy groupthink is for a manager to speak with an team member before a meeting, and asking him or her to play devil’s advocate. The devil’s advocate in each meeting disagrees with every key point in the meeting, creating conflict by creating an opening for others to contribute ideas by shifting conflicting ideas from the the person with power, to the team member of equal power. If played right other team members follow suit offering up ideas left and right. The managers job in all of this is to guide the meeting in the right direction, using the ideas with the best merit and using conflict management to build on said idea. Most importantly watching for any negative conflict and nipping it in the bud if it starts.
Using Runrun.it to Prevent Negative Conflict
All too often negative conflicts appear which are unnecessary. Co-workers trying to push their limits and giving their responsibilities to other co-workers. Or maybe a manager with no regard for said employees current workload simply throws another task on top of him or her which results in that person getting upset and stressed out when they fall behind. Ending up in a conflict with a manager or co-worker. All of this could have been avoided if people followed the proper processes to get things done, but we are only human, and we don’t live in a perfect world.
Which is why Runrun.it is here. Runrun.it is a task manager that lets managers prioritize tasks so that employees know what is most important, and what needs to be done first. Workloads have to stay within their respected daily time limits, and best of all managers set who can open up tasks for who. Enforcing that all business processes be followed for optimum productivity and minimal conflict.
Runrun.it the cure to task conflict.
Meet Runrun.it – the tool that dispenses email for internal communication because it centralizes the tasks of all teams and reduces the number of follow-up meetings and the friction between leaders and teams by producing automatic activity reports. Try it free here.