The toughest and most common problem in business is often managing interpersonal relationships. How many co-workers, supervisors or subordinates do you work with that frustrate you? That make you feel as if every encounter is a personal attack?
In my last job, several members of the executive team frequently had strong and heated conflicts with department heads. So much so that morale was often depressed throughout the company (trickle down effect).
However, we reached a turning point as an organization when a simple concept settled in, “I’m not evil and neither are you.”
- For Managers: It means that your direct reports are working hard and want the best for the company. And yes, they make mistakes.
- For Subordinates: It means that your boss is doing what he or she believes will yield the best results. And yes, he or she will make mistakes.
At the root of the problem is differences in personalities, methods and perspectives.
For example, my collective experiences have formed how I see problems and find solutions. Obviously, your background can lead you to see things differently and therefore find different solutions. But if we both recognize that we are driving at the exact same goal - success - then although our approaches may be at odds, we are not.
Another way to look at conflict
According to researcher K. A. Jehn, conflict in a team can be separated into three types.
- Relationship: Disagreement stemming from non-work related, personal or social issues. This type of conflict often involved egos, anger and personality clashes.
- Task: Disagreement arising from the work itself. Conflict can arise from a misunderstanding of what the task or end goal actually is. Some task conflict can be healthy as it stimulates discussion.
- Process: Disagreement over how to approach a task or problem and who should do what. Although the goal may be clear, how to reach it may create disagreement.
If you are experiencing a high level of conflict, consider the root of it. Where is it coming from? Can you categorize it as Jehn did above?
Best practices for conflict resolution
As I prefer posts that are prescriptive, I’ve outlined several guidelines for resolving conflict. NOTE: I did not say avoiding conflict. Not all conflict can be or should be avoided.
- A big change in our organization was going from attacking individuals on a personal level by talking about traits to addressing behaviors. So instead of, “You’re an idiot who spends too much money,” try, “You are consistently over-budget, which is negatively affecting the bottom line.”
- Talk openly about problems. I can’t count how many gripe lunches I went to with co-workers. You know the kind. But once we arrived back at the office, we shut up and went back to business as usual.
There are many other useful techniques depending on the situation, but all of them should include the two guidelines above.
What have you found to be useful?
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