Conflict is a natural part of teamwork and working together. The best teams that I have worked with embraced creative tension to get things done. As organizations grow and change, there are going to be issues and challenges with “lanes,” boundaries, information needs, work styles, and many other issues. Working in a remote or hybrid environment can make things more difficult, as it is harder to get to know your colleagues, and to understand when things are a little bit “off.”
I’ve been thinking a bit about conflict management lately, as I recently gave a presentation on the topic to a student group, and one of our clients brought us in to help with a conflict in their workplace. Thus, I wanted to share some key pointers on the topic based on my research into best practices and personal and client experiences with the topic.
Here are some of my observations:
- People don’t always recognize conflict as a conflict. If your needs are not being met, there is a conflict. For instance, if you need certain information in a timely manner to do your job, and someone else does not get that information to you, that is a conflict. If you need time to process information individually before determining your point of view, and a colleague wants to meet and hash things out, that is a conflict.
- Don’t let small things become big things. As soon as you realize that a need is not being met, and that someone could help you meet that need, say something. Explaining your needs can sometimes quickly and easily resolve the conflict. The other person probably senses that something is going on, but they might have no idea about what they could do to help get things back on track.
- Involve others when needed. Sometimes the issue is beyond your control, or the other person’s control. For instance, there could be too much work for a department to get done in a week. Who can add a resource to the team? Who can reprioritize activities? Get them involved.
- People lack skills. The book “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson has many tools developed for situations that are high stakes, high emotion, and where two people are on opposite sides of an issue. Learning techniques such as “5 Whys” and other tools, where you can “work the tool, not the person” can be extremely helpful to resolving the conflict effectively. If conflicts are ignored, or aren’t addressed until everyone is really frustrated, major damage can occur to the relationships, and to the culture of the organization.
- Be proactive. Provide tools for people. Address conflict early on with an intervention. Build your culture in a way that supports effective conflict management, like encouraging frequent and direct communication about what is going well, and not going well. Have regular check ins and feedback sessions.
In my experience, organizations that have a culture that embraces open discussion and resolution of conflict are more effective and have higher retention. Feel free to send over to me any of your favorite tips and tools and I’ll add them as an addendum to this blog post!
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Amy Cell is a renowned and passionate pioneer in HR and Talent initiatives. She also leads an innovative consulting firm that specializes in recruiting and HR services for startups, small businesses, and municipalities.View Bio