The ability to manage conflict skillfully and proactively
WHAT IS IT?
Conflict is a normal part of every relationship. It happens when two or more people have different perspectives, opinions or ideas about any given topic. Conflict management is successfully and efficiently resolving these differences to avoid negative outcomes.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
At best, sharing of divergent perspective can help a team or individual attorney gain a more accurate and nuanced understanding of a particular topic or case. At worst, opinion differences can threaten the cohesion of a firm or compromise the commitment of employees. Conflicts need to be managed efficiently and effectively in order to avoid unnecessary personality conflicts or a situation that compromises the effectiveness of both individuals as well as of the firm as a whole.
- Address Unresolved Conflict
First, examine your own working relationships to see if you have any unresolved conflict with others. We can hold grudges and feel resentment sometimes without even realizing it. Both of these states negatively impact our relationships. We need to own up to our feelings and deal with them. That might mean choosing to let something go or directly communicating about the interpersonal tension that exists. For example, you could say something like, “Bob, I know we haven’t seen eye to eye on a lot of issues, but I respect you and want to figure out how to work together more effectively for the sake of our practice.” Most people will be very responsive to your offer of reconciliation.
- Encourage Healthy Conflict
We need to have appropriate attitudes about conflict and debate. While some people can be insensitive and not realize they are coming across aggressively, others can be conflict avoidant and take things too personally. Working in a collaborative environment means that senior-level attorneys need to not only reinforce the importance of debate, but also suggest some ground rules. At your next team or staff meeting, share some specific ground rules for discussion. Introduce the idea that vigorous debate and differences in opinions are important, but also suggest that comments should never be personal and that any hard feelings cannot spill over into future meetings.
- Manage Disagreement
Finally, disagreements are normal. In a tense environment with important issues on the line, conversations can get heated and co-workers, even those working toward the same goals, can take it out on one other. Lead by example, and directly confront attorneys who are not playing fair or not getting along well with others. Coach them to deal with their issues maturely in order to serve the greater good of the practice.