Is conflict in an organisation good or bad?

21/11/2011

By Gavin Meikle, Head of Learning and Founder of inter-activ

Conflict is almost inevitable in an organisation and it isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. Some forms of conflict can cause us the challenge the status quo and can be the source of new and more creative ways of working. But it is also true that some forms of conflict can be extremely damaging and can lead to reduced performance, sabotage, sniping, whinging, low morale and expensive staff turnover. As a leader in your organisation I believe that it is your job to ensure that unhelpful conflict is resolved and ideally prevented.

Exploring what causes unhelpful conflict

The key to resolving conflict is to understand what causes it. Conflict can be caused by many things but ultimately comes down to unmet expectations and needs. The problem is that very often these expectations and needs are assumed and therefore unspoken. All we see is an extreme reaction to a trivial action, question or behaviour.

Responding to conflict

Many people fall into the trap of ether ignoring the behaviour or responding in kind. Neither of these strategies provides a sustainable long term solution. The conflict may go away temporarily but it will almost certainly recur again and again, usually with increasing severity.

The key to defusing the conflict is to connect with the underlying unmet need or violated expectation and acknowledge it. We can do this by keeping our calm, empathising with the other person and sincerely asking questions to find out what is the underlying issue is for them.

Having identified the issue, the key to resolving the conflict is to work with the other party to problem-solve. When you jointly identify a mutually acceptable solution further conflict on this topic is prevented.

Prevention is better than cure

Many conflicts can be prevented by a couple of simple actions.

1. Agree clear, transparent expectations or ground rules and review them regularly.

2. Make time to get to know your staff, colleagues and customers and to explore what their core values are. (NB: Don’t assume that what is important to you is important to them.)


Gavin Meikle is the owner of inter-activ learning and development, a Southampton based consultancy specialising in effective face to face interpersonal communication and presentations. He can be contacted at gmeikle@inter-activ.co.uk or by phone on 07810 645309.


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