Managing Conflict at Work – Part I

| January 28, 2017 | 0 Comments

Several months ago I had the pleasure of presenting an overview on managing conflict to the Jefferson County West Chamber Women in Business Group. In the first of three newsletters, I’d like to share excerpts from the presentation I think you will find helpful. I do want to begin by recognizing two resources I find to be very valuable. I have used the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument with a number of companies, big and small. It’s an excellent tool to drill down on people’s leanings in dealing with conflict, giving individuals and groups a common language, facilitating fruitful, honest conversations. These conversations lend themselves to actionable take-aways. The second resource is HBR Guide + Tools for Managing Conflict at Work. . The ebook along with the related tools provides a comprehensive training tool to facilitate a workshop with a good overview on the topic of conflict.

Conflict-ManagementSo, let’s get started. As uncomfortable and draining as conflict can be, conflict in and of itself isn’t really the problem. It’s how we handle it that matters. We view conflict as a situation where there is a winner and there is a loser. If we change our definition, we can change our perspective. Rather than assuming a potentially negative outcome, consider that Conflict is any situation in which your concerns or desires differ from those of another person. (Throughout this article, I will reference conflict between individuals, but it can most certainly be attributed to groups and organizations.)

If we take the broader definition above, we realize we are constantly engaged in conflict. I want fish tonight for dinner, you want chicken. Which movie do you want to see? The car is making a strange noise. Should we take it to the dealership or the mechanic down the street? All of these represent the potential for conflict, but you don’t normally hear someone say, “My partner and I were in conflict last night on whether to have fish or chicken.” Unless of course, you have had it with chicken. On the other hand, here is where we do tend to categorize situations as conflict – You’ve reserved the conference room for your team meeting a month ago and a colleague from another department is requesting you turn that time slot over so they can meet with a client. Revenues are finally on the upswing, allowing for new hires. Choices need to be made about which vacant slots to fill first.

Going beyond the winner/loser frame of mind gets us past the highly charged feelings of doing battle and into a more productive place. Conflict, managed well, produces greater clarity, individual and group growth, and improved relationships. The “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that – great suggestion.” adds to the quality of the effort, reinforces involvement and buy-in. In other words, as Patrick Lencioni would say, “You want true commitment? You’ve got to have conflict.”

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote in 2013, If we do not have conflict in our meetings, it is very likely that we do not have honest conversations. If we do not have honest conversations, we do not have commitment and we certainly are not moving forward as quickly as we should, nor in the right direction. Here is what we do have: We have hallway conversations that should have occurred in the meeting. We have the proliferation of half-truths and siloed knowledge. We have a politicized environment where the primary goal is individual or departmental protection, not what is best for the organization.
In our next newsletter we’ll focus on the different ways people deal with conflict, how you can recognize the styles and how best to respond.
In the meantime, if you and your team are struggling with conflict and want to engage with each other in a more effective way, give me a call I would be happy to talk with you.

In Part II we’ll take a look at the different styles people use in dealing with conflict and how to best approach those styles.

Until next time, take care,


Category: Conflict Management, Newsletters


About the Author ()

Julia Hill-Nichols, SPHR, is the founder of LeadersCove, LLC. With over 30 years experience in operations and human capital management, Julia is gifted in the art and science of bridging strategic imperatives and a company’s human capabilities—executing for success, meeting bottom-line objectives and enlivening the people who are the organization’s lifeblood.

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