CONFLICT – A NECESSARY EVIL

I think it’s fair to say that most of us would prefer to live our lives without conflict, but to be human is to experience conflict. Whether at home or at work, we are constantly faced with disagreements, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings; that’s just part of life!

Conflict happens when the objectives, needs/wants, beliefs, opinions and/or feelings of one person contradict those of another. Simply put, we are in conflict once we realize that what we HAVE is different from what we WANT or NEED. Here’s a good example to illustrate the point;

I’m a frontline team leader working in a manufacturing organization. My Lead hand and I agree as to the increased number of widgets needed to be produced on the shift however, we disagree as to the best way to get there. My Lead hand believes their approach is better than mine, and I happen to disagree. The conflict is not about the “objective” or the quota – number of pieces to come off the production line, but about the methodology, or how we get to meet that objective. What I HAVE is disagreement, and what I WANT is agreement…I’m in conflict!!

From my experience, most managers and employees deal with conflict inappropriately. Why? It’s because conflict always involves emotions. Folks in conflict commonly experience fear, anger, outrage, and frustration. When these emotions surface, they tend to become the driving force of our communication. As such, we risk becoming defensive, even aggressive, while some of us simply avoid dealing with the issue altogether. We withdraw from the uncomfortableness of the situation in the hopes that it will miraculously resolve itself.

In addition to the emotional content, most of us view conflict as a negative; an argument, a confrontation, or a fight. That perception further fuels the use of our emotions because there’s a need for us to defend and argue our position or avoid the conflict purely out of fear. When we allow feelings and perceptions to dominate our efforts to resolve conflict, the results are usually disastrous; the behavior takes over and we end up losing sight of the “true objective”; RESOLUTION.

BENEFITS OF CONFLICT

Conflict is not only inevitable; it’s also beneficial. As conflict makes us realize that what we HAVE is different from what we WANT or NEED, only conflict can be used as a tool to:

IMPROVE COMMUNICATION

Conflict presents an opportunity to express openly our thoughts, opinions, and feelings. It gives us a forum to come together and function as a team. It allows us to share our perspective and develop a better understanding of others and ourselves. It stimulates interest and curiosity and fosters creativity.

SOLVE PROBLEMS MORE CREATIVELY

Conflict helps prevent stagnation and complacency by forcing us to come up with new and innovative solutions to difficult situations. For example, all performance and process improvements occur because of a conflict. The conflict causes us to challenge the status quo and find better ways to produce and service our customers, including our internal ones. In a nutshell, conflict is a catalyst for change and organizational renewal.

TIPS TO RESOLVING CONFLICT

The key to using conflict in its most productive form is first, knowing how to manage it to positive resolution. In other words, the way we choose to communicate within a conflict has everything to do with how well the conflict is resolved. When we as managers and supervisors become aggressive, defensive, or decide to withdraw or remove ourselves from the situation in order to avoid any sense of responsibility and ownership, we make matters worse. We also run the risk of damaging our relationships with the very people who help us achieve our goals and objectives; our employees.

SHIFT IN PERCEPTION

From now on, let us not think of conflict as a confrontation or a fight. Let’s look at it as an opportunity to resolve and grow. With that realization, we can begin to focus our attention on the real crux of the matter rather than simply reacting negatively. The second step is to disallow our emotions from influencing or corrupting the way in which we communicate.

The suggestion here is not to suppress our feelings but rather recognize that responding emotionally to a conflict greatly decreases the likelihood of successfully resolving it. Remember…awareness is the key to change; we cannot change anything until we first become aware of the need for change.

Not getting what we want or need causes stress and anxiety, creating a barrier we could certainly do without. The true barrier is wishing we could live without conflicts by avoiding discussing them openly. Our attitude is the obstacle, not the conflict.

TIPS… ON RESOLVING CONFLICT

  1. SHIFT YOUR PERCEPTION; LOOK AT CONFLICT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO INITIATE CHANGE
  2. STAY CALM; EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS AND DENIAL MAKE A SITUATION WORSE

LISTEN ATTENTIVELY; GAIN KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING.