Conflict takes many forms in an organization. Your team may dispute how the work should be done, how resources should be allocated, or how revenues should be redistributed. Conflict, by its very nature, is a critical process around an idea or a solution. People hold different perspectives and have various motives and therefore, conflict exists. However, the existence of conflict can be very healthy for your team’s effectiveness. When a conflict arises, it brings opportunities to synthesize diverse perspectives, test out solutions, and benefit from collective intelligence. Consequently, avoiding conflicts can potentially cost companies valuable innovations and learning experiences.
Conflict management is, and has always been, an important skill for managers to master in order to ensure their business runs smoothly. In order to fulfill the art of conflict resolution, you must: think emphatically, think transparently and stay focused. Adopting these three mindsets is pivotal for you and your company's success.
It is crucial to empathize with your employees’ ideas and situation. A great leader cares about the opinion of each and every employee.
When a conflict is overheated, you need to bring the emotion down to a controllable level. Let people vent out their frustration. Blow off steam. If someone shouts, let them be. You should listen carefully and nod emphatically. If possible, try to facilitate active listening between disputing parties. Attentive listening can gain you a better understanding of each of their standpoints. Be aware of the ecosystem within your company and how each department works together.
Put all the cards on the table. Make sure that everyone is on the same page. Many conflicts arise from a lack of information, which leads to misunderstanding.
Get more information by asking open-ended questions. For example, “How do you think the customer will use this feature?” instead of “Will they use this feature?” or “Is it worth spending resources in developing this new functionality?”. Verifying questions can help you gather more information to prevent unnecessary assumptions. Without explaining yourself and justifying with examples, assumptions can come across as extremely offensive. This can then trigger people to act in an angry or defensive manner, which will not benefit your conflict resolution.
In addition, be clear about the characteristics of the conflict. Is it a personal matter or an institutional issue? After distinguishing between the two, you can then decide on a suitable course of action.
Focus on ideas, not their owners. Always steer conversations away from personal attacks. A useful technique is to use hypotheses. A hypothetical contradiction is more likely to get one to imagine a different scenario rather than to concentrate on feelings of being disapproved or even humiliated. “I hear your concern about adding the right feature to increase sales. If we could get the right one…what would the product be like?”
It is essential to keep everyone focused on the company’s common goals. Communicate these goals clearly and specifically. A solution that is most likely to bring the organization closer to its goals is unarguably more valuable than one that only benefits a team or an individual.
If it seems impossible to reach a consensus, you can shift the focus on a procedure to move forward. Ask your employees how they want to move forward and involve them in the decision making process to help them see the bigger picture.
Despite this, there will times when you will have to let go. No matter how skillful you are, you won’t be able to solve each and every conflict immediately. When emotional levels get out of control, you should consider taking some time off until the heat has, hopefully, gone down.
Conflict is critical to team effectiveness, but can also be damaging when left unresolved. An effective leader sees conflict resolution as an opportunity for growth for the business as well as a learning experience for his or her own leadership maturity. Be empathetic, be transparent and stay focused so you can lead your people through adverse circumstances.
3 Tips to take away:
1. Think empathically: Listen actively and put yourself into others’ position
2. Think transparently: Make necessary information available to all parties involved, and make decisions upon facts
3. Stay focused: Focus on the ideas, not its owners; prioritize solutions benefiting the common goals.
About Steffen Maier
Steffen Maier is co-founder of impraise a web-based and mobile solution for actionable, timely feedback at work.
Based in New York and Amsterdam, Impraise turns tedious annual performance reviews into an easy process by enabling users to give and receive valuable feedback in real-time and when it’s most helpful.
The tool includes an extensive analytics platform to analyze key strengths and predict talent gaps and coaching needs.