Effective leaders need courage because they have to be very brave when it comes to conflicts. If a team is open and has mutual respect for each other, disagreements are an integral part of their relationships because all ideas are welcomed and discussed. This is, of course, the ideal and an effective leader encourages an accepting attitude.
Is conflict a "good thing" in the workplace? Yes! Healthy conflict promotes diverse ideas and pulls people out of the tunnel vision of self-interest. Conflict helps a team get past old issues and become more productive by identifying problems that need to be acknowledged and solved.
Unhealthy conflict is an extremely serious topic. A disgruntled employee is a potential threat and can be a source of workplace violence. Managers/Leaders must be aware of a co-worker whose behavior has changed negatively and communicate the concerns to the employee. Good listening and coaching skills are essential to discover underlying problems with a thorough follow-up through more one-on-ones and/or referrals to qualified therapists. A potentially violent employee should never be ignored; the consequences could be disastrous.
Methods of Dealing With Conflict
Conflicts are dealt with using a number of both positive and negative methods. For example, old style managers would step in the middle of a conflict and resolve it with the power of their authority. They dictated the solution. The effect of this method is a demoralizing and demotivating experience. Other negative solutions to conflict include:
AVOIDING - This is sweeping the problem under the rug either by not acknowledging there is a conflict or hoping it will go away. Nothing is resolved and usually the situation gets worse.
ACCOMMODATING - This is giving up a lot just to put an end to the issue. Not only does this technique model negative leadership behavior, it also encourages "tattling." Many parents give in to their children for the sake of expediency, however accommodating only encourages more bad attitudes.
COMPROMISING - This method sees to be a positive solution at first, but realistically it does not promote a long-term solution. It's a "we give up-you give up" situation where certain concessions are made. This is another form of Accommodating and done in the hope of keeping the peace. And it will...for a while.
PASSING THE BUCK - This is not a productive leadership characteristic. An effective leader will always take the responsibility to solve any disagreement or conflict within the team.
CONFRONTING - The only positive method in dealing with conflict is acknowledging that there's a problem. Confrontation is a process of finding a "win-win" solution using open discussion between all parties involved in the situation. Also, it is an opportunity to educate team members on conflict resolution so that many future disagreements are resolved by the individuals themselves. "Conflict, properly managed, seeds growth, creativity and change," says Bob Wall, author of Working Relationships.
7 Steps to Conflict Resolution For Team Leaders
It is vital to use a process or procedure when attempting to resolve a dispute. By following a step-by-step guideline, a Manager/Leader is more professional and less emotionally involved in the situation.
1. Acknowledge that a conflict exists. When you are made aware of a problem, this is an important signal telling you that something is wrong. Prompt attention is needed.
2. Arrange a meeting. Meet with each person privately using active listening skills. This is a time to gather the facts from the sources and allow some "venting." Keep in mind that everyone is right; their point of view is based on his/her knowledge and experience. Remain neutral and try not to form any definite opinions. Follow these one-on-ones with a joint meeting of all the parties.
3. See the problem as the problem, not one person against the other. "I'm right, you're wrong" is the wrong approach. Show your objectivity and focus on the problem. By modeling the correct attitude, the team members will do the same and start cooperating to find a solution.
4. Make a list of the things everyone agrees on. When the shared concerns are discussed, the parties will realize how much they have in common. The similarities will bring them together in the process of then listing the differences. The Manager/Leader stresses the commonalities while leading them to brainstorming solutions of the problems.
5. Confirm your understanding of the conflict. Reflex back with dialogue and questions, making sure each side has given you the information needed for clear understanding.
6. Discuss the conclusions reached by everyone and your expectations. Use coaching skills to spell out each step that needs to be taken to a successful resolution of the issues.
7. Always work towards a win-win resolution. Educate your team members on compromise, negotiation, and win-win so they understand no one is losing, no one is "giving up" or "giving in." Write out a plan; have them sign it. Spell out the expectations. Don't expect too much too soon. Plan for as much time as possible for the implementation of the solution. Spread your expectations out slowly. Schedule follow-up meetings.
By following a plan, you will feel in control of the situation. This helps you to concentrate on the problem and schedule adequate time for meetings. The above is a list of "what to do" and the following is a list of "what not to do:"
Don't tell your team to stop complaining and just get along. The problems will not go away; the team will go underground and will stop coming to you because they realize you can't help them.
Don't try to confront a conflict in front of others or attempt to solve this type of problem as a group. You'll never get the true issue, and the situation will probably get worse.
Don't become a "parent" by giving solutions to problems that team members can solve themselves. Take the time to educate your workers on conflict resolutions.
Don't side with one person. Hold yourself back, looking at all sides of the issue. If you make a decision too quickly, you may have to "eat" your words later.
Don't criticize. Use coaching skills and praise to alter negative attitudes and bad behavior.
Don't ignore conflicts, disputes, disagreements, bad feelings, or violent behavior. As Bob Wall writes in Working Relationships: "Conflict kills teamwork, undermines trust between co-workers, and damages companies and the public they serve."
4 Components to Solving The Conflict
In their book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury discuss principled negotiation which they say consists of four points:
PEOPLE - As Leader, you must "separate the people from the problem." Expect some strong emotions and egos. Model objectivity and promote the atmosphere of cooperation, not competition. Project an attitude that the "participants are problem solvers."
INTERESTS - "Focus on interests, not positions...avoid having a bottom line."
OPTIONS - "Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do...invent options for mutual gain."
CRITERIA - "Insist that the result be based on some objective standard...yield to principle, not pressure."
Another idea for dealing with the "people issue" of conflict resolution comes from Carl Rogers in an article from the Harvard Business Review:
"...stop the discussion for a moment and, for an experiment, institute this rule: Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately and to that speaker's satisfaction."
Summing Up - What Conclusions Can We Make?
In his book, Principle Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey writes about Leadership and our relationships with co-workers and family members. When it comes to problem-solving, Covey states that enlightened Leaders can "change hearts, build trusts, revise the structure and systems. Most leaders are trying to do that to some degree. They are trying to create a profitable, informed, skilled, productive, cooperative, quality organization. And they are beginning to value people, the top line, as much as they value the profits, the bottom line.
"If we use an authoritarian or benevolent approach to problem-solving, we slip into a kind of condescending or vertical communication pattern. If people sense that we are "talking down" to them or that our motive is to manipulate them into making change, they will resist our efforts."
Mr. Covey teaches that we need to avoid the win/lose scenario and choose to pursue the win/win solution. "To achieve this takes more time; it takes patience and self-control and courage balanced with consideration. In short, it takes considerable maturity and the exercise of our higher faculties."
There is that word again: COURAGE. Being a Leader means you have tap into your brave self and as you take calculated risks, especially when it comes to conflict resolution, you will reap the reward of truly helping your team achieve performance at the highest level.
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