Who is managing your organizational conflicts?

You’ve heard death and taxes are an inevitable part of life. I would add conflict to that list. 

While most organizations hire top-rate accountants and offer their key employees life insurance, very few expend resources on tapping into what may be the highest cost-saving and creativity producing area of their organization—conflict management. 

Unfortunately, many organizations wait until conflict has escalated to a point that it has infected the environment before they act. Unresolved conflict costs businesses untold dollars in lost productivity, decreased morale, absenteeism, theft, and even violence. 

Yet, conflict is an essential part of life. If we do not disagree, how will we ever learn or grow? Organizations need constructive conflict to keep employees engaged and creating, especially in this time of unprecedented global competition. Creative ideas and solutions are often borne out of passionate debate. 

Organizations that accept conflict as healthy also have happier employees. Working in an environment that welcomes input (event complaints) and creative problem-solving helps employees feel heard, understood, and valued for their contributions—all key metrics of employee satisfaction.

So, what can you do to manage conflict more effectively in your organization? 

  • Consider and discuss conflict as a part of your strategic planning process.
    • How do you currently manage conflict within the organization?
    • Are there any recurring issues with unresolved conflict? 
    • Are you tapping the potential of conflict?
    • How does your organization welcome or reject conflict in various levels/functional areas? 
    • How would you like to use conflict as a creative process to improve your organization? 
  • When you onboard employees, make it clear that conflict is not only accepted, it is expected. Encourage them to speak up when they have a problem and offer potential solutions.
  • Train all employees to view conflict as a plus. Help them to differentiate between constructive conflict (conflict that focuses on the problem) and destructive conflict (conflict that is personal). 
  • Train managers and team leaders in skills such as facilitation and coaching to support them in increasing their comfort with employee and group conflict. 
  • If you are a large organization, consider who in your organization should be the Chief Conflict Management Officer (a person charged with creating a conflict-positive culture and helping manage destructive conflict early). It could be a separate position or a designated part of an existing role, such as Human Resources—just make sure the person has the proper training and background. 
  • If you are a smaller organization, look for a consultant or organization to offer training in effective conflict management and services such as coaching and facilitation.
  • Address issues early and often. When complaints are received, consider the causes such as misinformation, structural constraints, or lacking knowledge. Support skill-building if needed or rely on the team to creatively address the issue together. Help them focus on the problem, not the person.
  • If one person is the cause of on-going destructive conflict and they are a bad fit for the organization or the job, address it quickly. Problems may go underground, but they never magically go away. 

Simply discussing the positive benefits of conflict within your organization can help to shift toward a more positive culture. Regardless of the size of your organization, a Conflict Management Specialist can help you assess your organization’s conflict management systems and culture and develop a plan to minimize destructive conflict and tap the full potential of constructive conflict. 

Bobbie L. Dillon, MS, is a Conflict Management Specialist who works with individuals and organizations to help them use effective communication and constructive conflict to reach their goals. Learn more at BobbieDillon.com


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