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 faced with disagreements, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings; that’s just part of life!
Conflict occurs when the objectives, needs, wants, beliefs, opinions, feelings, and values 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 quality parts 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 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, to name but a few. 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. We are simply not managing the conflict to positive resolution as the behavior takes over and we end up losing sight of the “true objective”.
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:
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 behave and communicate within a conflict has everything to do with how well the conflict is resolved. I maintain that the quality of our approach, is in direct proportion to the quality of the outcome. When managers and supervisors become aggressive, defensive, or decide to withdraw or remove themselves from the situation in order to avoid any sense of responsibility and ownership, they make matters worse. We run the risk of damaging our relationships with the very people who help us achieve our goals and objectives.
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 grow and initiate change. With that realization, we can begin to focus our attention on the real crux of the matter rather than simply reacting to the situation. The key 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 however, is wishing we could live without conflicts by avoiding discussing them openly. Our attitude is the obstacle, not the conflict.
Tips on managing conflict
Shift your perception; look at conflict as an opportunity to initiate change
Stay calm; emotional outbursts and denial make a situation worse
Listen attentively; gain knowledge and understanding.