Groups in conflict; a few members spreading discord to the entire team; passive team members perpetuating problems; active team members recruiting others to “their” side. Whatever the specific nature of a group’s conflict, it is essential that it be handled effectively – and sooner rather than later. Letting it fester only erodes morale and productivity. Group facilitation can help address the underlying issues that run through the behaviours that are affecting the work environment. While time is of the essence, it is critical that all parties be prepared before setting foot in the facilitation room.
Theories and strategies inspired by them for managing conflict are great starting points but the real magic flows from attitude. My sister and brother-in-law recently wrote a book together. Its called: THE STOP – How The Fight For Good Food Transformed A Community And Inspired A Movement. (to learn more visit: http://www.cfccanada.ca/book)
“Hi, John. Nice tie.” We have the ability to take this one simple sentence and saturate it with meaning. I might think, “Why yes it is! You obviously have great taste.” Or, “What’s that supposed to mean? You think your tie is better?” Or, “Why is that person bothering to comment on my tie? Am I about to get bad news, and he’s just trying to break the fall a little.” Our attitudes have a starring role in workplace conflict. Conflict is often about perceptions, and the outlook we bring into the workplace can be a determinant in whether discord is allowed to take root.
When supervisors are promoted, they should have a subtitle under their new title: resolver of conflicts, great and small, which threatens workplace cohesion, productivity, and morale. Might be a bit long for a plaque on your door, but when you are promoted into a position of authority, one of your most critical responsibilities is managing and resolving conflict. The first step is recognizing that this is now part of your job description. Next up is figuring out how to get the issue handled and your team back to work.
Psychologist and philosopher William James said, “Whenever two people meet there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other sees him, and each man as he really is.” This makes for a crowded negotiation table. When handling conflict, the issue at hand is only part of the issue.
“I’ll see you in court!” We imagine that, if we said this, we would then march right into a scene from A Few Good Men and deliver a stirring speech, before we are vindicated. You can handle the truth; you will prevail. If they made movies about what really goes on in court, though, no one would ever go near a theater or a television again. If you are counting on the swift arm of justice to swoop in and set the matter right (“right” for you, that is), you might be disappointed.
Where does conflict come from? We like to think it comes from other people; certainly not from ourselves! But conflict is like a collision; in fact, the word means “to strike together.” We bump up against people or situations that appear to be antagonistic to us. Conflict is virtually inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it must be negative. When we can understand where conflict comes from, we can map out more effective strategies for resolving it.
Conflict springs from a variety of sources:
“I have long felt that the only value of stock forecasters is to make fortune tellers look good.” Billionaire investor Warren Buffett
If you gave a monkey 100 darts to throw at a dartboard, he would hit it just about as many times as a forecaster would pick the right stocks. The difference is that monkeys are not generally cocky about their ability to hit the board, while those making complicated predictions, without immediate feedback, tend to be overconfident in their ability. So, your stock tip for the day is to be wary of those who claim to be accurate stock forecasters, and your mediation tip for the day is do not become overconfident in your ability to make predictions based on interpretations of body language. Either way, you may as well go to the fortune teller.
Conflict is great; there is nothing like it to liven up a dull day or to get your juices flowing. Without conflict, there would be no gripping works of literature, no tear-jerking romances, no edge-of-your-seat thrillers. There would be no exchange of divergent ideas, no chance to broaden your perspective, no opportunity to forgive or apologize, no room to grow, no colorful language. Not only is conflict unavoidable, it is desirable. “Good conflict” may sound like an oxymoron, but in fact, conflict can often bring about positive change.