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 perspectives helps groups gain a more accurate and nuanced understanding of just about any topic. At worst, it can threaten the cohesion and commitment of team members, and it can compromise the effectiveness of individuals or of the team as a whole. Without effective conflict management, differences of opinion can easily turn into ingrained personality conflicts or unnecessary obstacles.
- Address Unresolved Conflict
First, examine the relationships in the group you are leading – especially your own relationships. Is there any underlying conflict or tension? 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 those feelings and deal with them. That might mean choosing to let something go or it might mean direct communication about interpersonal tension that exists. 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 this project.” Most people will be very responsive to your offer of reconciliation. Furthermore, this direct and respectful communication models the way for your team and encourages others use the same approach.
- Encourage Healthy Conflict
Second, we need to have appropriate attitudes about conflict and debate. Some people are insensitive and don’t realize they are coming across aggressively. Others are conflict avoidant and take things too personally. Leaders need to reinforce the importance of debate and deliberation, but they also need to 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 the differences of opinion are important, but 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 people, even those working toward the same goals, can take it out on one other. Lead by example, and directly confront those 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 team.