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Are You Sure You Want To Resolve Conflict?

Because I’m not so sure you want to.

As someone who has taken conflict resolution coaching classes and been party to hundreds of employee conflicts in the workplace, most of the advice that you receive in order to resolve conflict is garbage. Do you use a five step method? Do you use an eight step method? Enough already. That stuff is for amateurs.

Here is my alternative answer to conflict resolution:

Resolve Problems

Conflict, in and of itself, is not always a problem. It can be but that isn’t anywhere close to being the norm.

And this is one thing I thought might be generational in nature. That is, until I got into heavy employee relations positions and finally understood it: people really don’t deal with conflict well in the workplace. More specifically, a large proportion of people think that people should be more agreeable and reduce conflict wherever possible.

I don’t buy that. Not for a second.

Take a manager who is annoying an employee by checking in on them all of the time and asking that all work go through them before it goes out to customers. He has an issue with the manager micromanaging his work. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for your rock star conflict resolving skills, right?

Wrong.

You talk to the manager and she says the employee has managed to mess up two critical communications to clients over the course of a week. The employee said it isn’t an issue anymore but she wanted to monitor the next couple weeks of communication before letting him go out on his own.

You came in trying to solve the conflict instead of the problem. The problem was the bad client communication. The conflict was because the manager had to create conflict to solve the problem and prevent future ones.

Encourage Conflict

There are three instances where I think conflict is absolutely essential to the strength and ultimate success of your company:

  1. Planning
  2. Problem Solving
  3. Innovation

When you are doing one of those three things, just allowing conflict and debate isn’t enough anymore. You have to encourage it either through coaching the leader of the exercise or through leading by example. Conflict leads to more thoughtful planning, more thorough problem solving and more creative innovation.

Final Thought

At some point, we are going to have to encourage healthier ways of dealing with conflict. I certainly have conflicts with the people closest with me on a frequent basis. We somehow manage to survive it all too. It seems that as soon as you enter the double doors of your office though, the rules change and suddenly that conflict is tantamount to workplace war.

What are your thoughts on this?

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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