Is Conflict Undermining Your Leadership?

Managing ConflictIn today’s competitive and fast-paced environment, where no one has enough time and everyone has too much to do, there’s NO escaping conflict between co-workers, teams, and management/leadership.

And as long as there are differences (personalities, strengths, interpersonal needs) between team members — combined with the need to work interdependently — conflict will always be part of the process. The most important question is whether or not that conflict is working for you and your team, or against you.

You may be wondering, “How can conflict can be a positive influence and actually work for me and my business?”

The reality is that conflict is always present in any situation where there is interdependence between two or more individuals and differences between those individuals. It’s simply a matter of how that conflict manifests itself and how it is managed by the people involved.

When individuals take an “avoiding” approach to managing conflict, it can make it appear as if there isn’t any conflict, when in fact there may be significant underlying feelings, concerns, or other factors that should be addressed — but are not, in order to avoid conflict.

The problem is that by avoiding the real problems and underlying issues that lead to these “potential” conflict situations, nothing is done to remedy the problems or address the issues — which may be serious and having a significant negative impact within the organization.  As a result, they continue to damage relationships, trust, productivity, teamwork, and employee engagement.

This is a significant problem in most American workplaces, where the avoidance approach to conflict management is common — at least until most of the damage has already been done or it reaches the boiling point and emotions explode.

Unfortunately, unresolved conflict builds walls between individuals and teams, motivates many employees to look for other opportunities, drives away customers (most of whom simply take their business elsewhere without telling you why) and undermines your leadership efforts.

And all of this takes place while there is no (or minimal) apparent conflict on the surface — yet having devastating effects on your business.

On the other hand, some individuals or teams in your organization may take the “competition” approach to conflict management, where the same contributing factors — differences and interdependence — turn into sparring matches, and the parties involved go all-out in an attempt to win the battle by proving that they are “right” and the opposing point of view is “wrong” (or at least inferior).

While this strategy isn’t always the wrong approach in conflict situations, oftentimes it becomes more about the individual’s need to prove themselves right — and “win” the conflict — at the expense of what is best for the team, customer, or organization as a whole.

And while the competition approach to conflict management is completely different than the avoidance style, it can have equally devastating effects on your business — damaged relationships, eroded trust, reduced productivity, and disengaged employees who simply withdraw into isolation.

Avoidance and competition are just two of five different conflict management styles that can be used within an organization, and typically have the most negative consequences on employee engagement and productivity.  Each should be used selectively and only when circumstances are such that these styles help your team move toward a desirable, positive outcome — not simply to avoid real issues or as a means to impose someone’s personal agenda.

In most cases, when there is something of real substance on which the conflict is based — more than just differences of personal preference or opinion — the most productive conflict management style is “collaboration”.

A collaborative approach to resolving conflict enables individuals to focus on the real underlying problem, work toward a solution that is mutually beneficial, and improve the outcome for the team, the organization, or the customer.  In this scenario the underlying issues are surfaced, all voices are heard, alternatives are explored, and a solution that produces the desired outcome is implemented.

As a result, the collaborative approach helps to build trust, strengthen relationships, increases employee engagement, and improves productivity and/or the end result.

While collaboration has many positive outcomes for conflict situations, it typically requires a focused and deliberate effort on the part of  leadership and individual team members to be implemented successfully — rarely occurring naturally in most settings due to the variety of personality preferences and interpersonal needs present in most workplaces.  Without question, it takes more time and a commitment to the process.

However, when a collaborative approach is used effectively to work through conflict, it can result in significant improvements for an organization and create a much stronger sense of shared responsibility for everyone who is involved in the experience — clearly a case where conflict is working for you and your business, rather than against you.

How is conflict impacting you, your team, and your leadership?