When you think of conflict, what comes to mind?
When I ask this question in trainings and workshops, I generally get a quick list of words back, such as: disagreement, fight, fear, and discomfort. Sometimes people share stories of conflicts they have experienced. Almost always, these words and memories evoke negative emotions in the people who said them.
People generally believe that conflict is inherently negative. In fact, conflict is neither negative nor positive. It simply arises out of difference. It is our response to conflict that creates negative impressions. Our association with the word conflict is often a reflection of how we have experienced conflict in the past, and because most people haven’t been taught the tools to manage conflict in positive ways, we develop the belief that conflict is a bad thing.
The truth is that we get to choose how we respond to conflict and whether it is a negative or positive experience, for ourselves and others involved. In fact, conflict – especially in the workplace – can lead to very positive outcomes when managed productively.
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Conflict is a normal part of life in the workplace because people have different personal backgrounds and professional goals. This isn’t a bad thing! In fact, a positive level of conflict can foster an environment of greater engagement, idea generation, and problem-solving, which promotes the overall growth of the organization.
However, when managed improperly, conflict can have many negative consequences for the workplace. Your goal as a leader should be to effectively resolve conflict to create a positive outcome for all involved.
How to be a Conflict Management Rockstar
Effectively managing conflict is a skill that can be developed just like any other leadership quality. While it can seem difficult and uncomfortable at first, the more you practice the easier it becomes.
Here are some tips for effectively handling conflict so you can become a conflict management rockstar:
• Recognize that conflict is a normal part of life and it can’t always be avoided.
• Address the conflict as soon as you become aware of it and while it is manageable (before it escalates) – avoiding conflict is generally not an effective strategy.
• It is important to deal with the conflict situation and not the person or people involved (avoid placing blame or letting your emotions influence your decision-making).
• When approaching conflict resolution, focus on balancing immediate needs with long-term goals while protecting the relationships of the people involved.
Different people use different strategies for managing conflict. These strategies are usually learned in childhood, and they seem to function automatically. Often, we are not aware of how we act in conflict situations. We just do whatever seems to come naturally. But we do have a personal strategy, and because it was learned we can always change it by learning new and more effective ways of managing conflict.
Jene Kapela, Ed.D.
Are you interested in learning about the different conflict management strategies and how to apply them in your work with others? Contact Jene at firstname.lastname@example.org.