Conflict Management Objectives
If you could free up 30% of your time at work, what could you accomplish?
It may sound like a stretch, but studies show that managers spend nearly a third of their time dealing with workplace conflict. Equally astounding, studies suggest that U.S. employees are engaged in conflict nearly 2.1 hours every work week, clocking in at an average of 385 million working days.
As a leader, your job title and conflict management are oftentimes synonymous. Your team looks to you when incongruity appears in the workplace. And how you prepare yourself to handle issues directly affects the strengths and successes of the people you represent.
Managing Conflict Effectively
Conflict follows no rules: it can occur with or without warning at any given time, and can be triggered by a multitude of people, actions, or events. While some instances of conflict can be headed off and quelled before a mass eruption, other times offer few to no signals to prepare you for the fallout.
Conflict most often occurs in situations where team members’ interests, goals, feelings, or principles are incompatible with those of the company or their peers. As a leader, your team members will often turn to you in search of a resolution if they feel they cannot resolve it alone.
But strong leaders learn how to recognize conflict from a distance and when it is appropriate to step in before they asked. Your main conflict management objective should be to reduce the harmful effects of workplace incompatibility swiftly and effectively. The longer you wait, the larger the conflict can potentially grow.
According to a study commissioned by CPP Inc. (publishers of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument), 25% of employees shared that conflict led to illness or absence from work. In addition, 10% claimed conflict primed them for project failure, while more than a third stated conflict induces someone to leave a company. And the cost of conflict in these situations can quickly mount to massive financial losses, especially when multiplied by a percentage of your total workforce.
Leaders spend a good amount of time dealing with conflict and the resulting consequences, which is why you should devise clear conflict management objectives to minimize its effects. Though conflict is often unavoidable, individuals can change the ways in which they respond to it.
Understand the Types of Conflict
The types of conflict vary, and you need to be aware of each possible type when establishing conflict management objectives.
Cognitive conflict (also called substantive or task conflict), for instance, centers on ideas rather than personalities. The effect of this type of conflict is usually positive or neutral and is often unrelated to the functioning of a group.
People can experience cognitive conflict when
- Their knowledge or beliefs are proved false
- Making a decision
- Become disappointed at the outcome of a project
- They realize they made a bad choice
A third of study participants revealed that conflict stems from heavy workloads, while 34% agreed that conflict comes directly from stress in the workplace. These types of cognitive conflicts could assume the form of
- Project strategy
- Resource allocation
- Time management
- Vendor selection
- Process establishment
Cognitive conflict is usually viewed as healthy, even energizing, as it helps to present alternative views that could potentially benefit the company's mission.
Learning new ways to perform a task or discovering alternative solutions can present initial discomfort to those affected when it conflicts with their preconceived beliefs. In these scenarios, your job as a successful leader relies on your ability to transform conflict into a positive outcome.
Emotional conflict, on the other hand, focuses on how people interact with each other in the workplace. Alarmingly, CPP's study indicated that nearly half of participants believe that conflict derives from personality clashes alone.
This type of conflict usually has a negative effect, especially when left unaddressed:
- Interdependence - One person's job relies on the output or cooperation of someone else's
- Difference in values or background - Two or more people could disagree on how to work together based on their background, experience, gender, religion, personal ethics, or other differentiating factors
- Difference in leadership response - Employees who experience a supervisory change may be accustomed to a certain type of leadership, and can become confused regarding new expectations or procedures
- Personality clashes - Perhaps the most common type of workplace conflict, these instances occur when emotions and beliefs about a person's character and motives are misinterpreted, biased, or untruthful.
Emotional conflict is arguably the more detrimental type to an organization, and addressing it should be a top priority. Unfortunately, it should be noted that emotional conflict isn't always easily recognized by leaders, nor is it always clearly foreshadowed.
That's not to say that cognitive conflict is more welcome than emotional conflict. Cognitive discrepancies can become as pervasive an issue as emotional situations, and flourish in negativity from participants if it isn't effectively cured.
In either case, it's equally vital to address and dissipate conflict promptly.
One key objective of conflict resolution training is learning how to detect existing and potential disparities. In recognizing conflict you are better prepared to develop an approach to remedy the conflict before it infects other areas of your organization.
If left unaddressed, poor conflict management can lead to
- A reduction in productivity
- Wasted time in fielding repeated complaints and concerns
- Workplace turnover
- Low morale
As a leader, you need to be forward thinking as to what events might initiate conflict. Be aware of individuals or situations that might provoke conflict or produce responses that are destructive. Keep an eye out for negative emotions that are being strongly expressed, impulsive responses, and an increase in tensions. A little foresight and planning can go a long way in preventing conflict escalation.
Define the Difference Between Constructive vs. Destructive Responses
Your conflict management objectives should serve beyond recognition. Whether you encounter an emotional issue or cognitive scenario, there are right and wrong ways to respond if you want to diffuse the conflict effectively.
One basis of setting conflict management objectives is to understand the difference between destructive and constructive responses, and when to utilize each type.
To deliver a constructive response means exhibiting behaviors or providing answers that keep conflict to a minimum. Providing a constructive response in the face of conflict can
- Create a win/win situation for all affected parties
- Present open, honest communication of each other's opinion
- Trigger open-mindedness to understand the other side
- Enable you to solve problems and complete tasks in a positive way
- Proactively resolve conflict rather than letting conflict continue
- Evoke thoughtful responses
- Improve team performance and morale
- Limit conflict-provoking behavior
- Enable each person to try to make the best of the situation, regardless of the outcome
Remaining constructive during intense conflict does not always come easily, even for senior leaders. To set the stage for a constructive response, use and adapt these best practices:
Begin thinking reflectively
- Note the reaction of those involved, including your own
- Remain neutral at all costs, even if you have a personal opinion on the situation
- Consider different responses before offering one
- Weigh the pros and cons of each side
- Consider how to approach your response diplomatically to minimize damage to each perspective
Delay your reaction
- Don't rush to provide a reaction or comment
- Allow emotions to dissipate before responding
- Speak at a time when you can speak with confidence
- Take enough time to consider both sides before reaching a conclusion
Understand the unique circumstances of the situation
- Every situation is different, so take time to recognize what's special about each one
- Don't fall back on a "This is how we usually do it" approach
- Remain open-minded to different solutions
- Consider each conflict a growing opportunity
- Remember that conflict is unavoidable
Focus on Ideas Instead of Personalities
- Critique the problem, not the persons involved
- Identify mutual interests in each party to boost collaboration and willingness to speak freely
- Diminish any perceived motives about the parties involved
- Remind each person involved that the issue lies in the problem, not a specific person
Constructive responses will keep the more harmful effects of conflict at a minimum, which ultimately gives you fewer instances of conflict to resolve later. Not only can your constructive responses quicken the journey to a solution, but also demonstrates a solid example for your team. And you may not realize it at the time, but your positivity in the situation won't go unnoticed.
Delivering destructive responses can add fuel to any conflict fire, and it's usually best to disengage from this type. Destructive responses include behaviors that prolong conflict or escalate it, and can result in the following situations:
- The persons involved feel frustration and angry
- Judgmental actions limit the possibilities of resolving the conflict
- Involved parties feel the need to get even or keep score of their "wins" or "losses"
- Respect disappears from both sides
- Each team demands to win regardless of what winning might entail
- No one's needs are met
- The issue never becomes fully resolved
- Team morale suffers, along with productivity and job fulfillment
In addition to the above scenarios, ill-managed conflict can pose long-term effects, such as employee turnover, a poor work environment reputation among job seekers, and budget issues stemming from turnover and low productivity. These possibilities can each ignite innumerable conflicts and set your organization on a burning path of divergence.
Destructive responses can take many forms, some of which you may not realize are detrimental to the situation:
Active Destructive Responses
- Refusing to be a team player by being stubborn or close-minded
- Showing outward aggression or anger
- Blaming others for the situation
- Demeaning others for their ideas or role in the conflict
- Providing a quick response because you feel like you need to respond, even though you haven't had time to make a sound judgment
Passive Destructive Responses
- Avoiding the conflict or denying the conflict exists
- Yielding to a less-than-ideal solution simply to resolve the conflict and move forward
- Not acknowledging feelings or trying to hide emotions
It's not enough to avoid destructive responses and recognize constructive ones. It takes practice and commitment to eliminate the bad reactions and choose the good ones. In every conflict, you have complete control over how you elect to handle the situation. And your default method may not always be the most appropriate one.
Oftentimes, good leaders naturally gravitate toward providing constructive responses in hopes of injecting positivity into every situation. However, engaging in destructive responses does not necessarily make you a bad leader; it simply means you, like the individuals on your team, have areas where you can make improvements to your workplace mannerisms. And when you take the initiative to make those improvements, you exemplify one of the greatest qualities every good leader demonstrates.
And when you seek to make those improvements, such as through conflict management training, your initiative exemplifies one of the greatest qualities every good leader demonstrates.
Lead the Way in Conflict Management
As a leader, you will want to pave the path in conflict management by setting an example for team members and ensuring they have a clear understanding of your conflict management objectives. Take time to analyze instances as they occur, reflect on the best ways to proceed, and consider all alternatives that best address the situation before you offer a response.
Considering that conflict will inevitably occur at times, effective conflict management is too important to your organization to ignore. The strongest leaders are not necessarily the ones who possess all the skills and knowledge themselves, but rather the ones who understand how to rely on resources when their own skillset falls short.
If you are seeking to strengthen your leadership skills, specialized training in objectives of conflict can provide a worthwhile investment for your organization and your career. Investing in conflict management training can help you gain insight into your own response to conflict as a leader, identify specific constructive and destructive responses, understand how passive and active responses to conflict differ, and apply new ways to resolve conflict effectively.
In the end, taking the initiative to train yourself on conflict management objectives can make the difference between a leadership-based job title and a true leader.