Harness conflict to your advantage

September 15th, 2013 @   -  No Comments

Ibn Omar said, the Prophet (PBUH) said to us when he returned from al-Ahzab (the battle of the trench), “let no one perform asr except at Bani Quraydah”. When asr time arrived while they were still on the road, some said, ‘we won’t pray until we get there’. Others said, ‘we should rather pray, that (i.e. not praying on time) is not what was expected of us’. This was mentioned to the Prophet (PBUH) who did not reprimand anyone.’ (Bukhari)

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. Human beings have different values, motivations and views about how things should be. When individuals come together to achieve an objective, their differences come into play and sometimes conflicts occur. Because such differences are more prevalent in times of rapid change it is imperative that team leaders understand the sources of conflict and the effective strategies for dealing with it.

We must expect conflict to occur in any organization. Indeed, as Stephen Robbins put it, “The absence of conflict may indicate autocracy, uniformity, stagnation, and mental fixity; the presence of conflict may be indicative of democracy, diversity, growth, and self-actualization.” Therefore as long as there are differences between people, conflict will be the norm not the exception.

We need to manage conflict in order to benefit from it. Managing conflict means keeping it at an acceptable level; we bring it down when it gets too high and we encourage healthy conflict when the level is too low. How do we manage conflict in a healthy organization to maximize energy, creativity and initiative, and remove animosity, negative energy and stagnation? I suggest the following steps:

Encourage a healthy level of conflict

If handled properly, a healthy level of conflict can bring out the best in people, fostering growth as they learn from the ideas and positions of others. Conflict can lead to innovative solutions and initiatives. It helps develop interpersonal skills.

You can create healthy conflict. To generate creativity for example, give your team members room and freedom to manoeuvre and excel. You can also promote productive competition within the team in order to bring out the best ideas. Push people to question the operating procedures, processes and policies. When people begin to question what they are doing, and how or why they are doing it, new ideas and approaches begin to surface. So encourage questioning and challenges to the status quo as a method of stimulating innovative solutions.

Minimize unhealthy conflict

Conflict becomes negative when it creates resistance to change, increases mistrust and confusion within the organization, destroys interpersonal relations, and poisons the working environment. Address negative conflict immediately before it becomes destructive. You can recognize negative conflict by the anger, blame, accusation and threats involved. Swift action can prevent the conflict from escalating and causing irreversible damage. To minimize negative conflict you can encourage round-the-table conversations where people can express their views freely and without fear of retaliation. Stimulate debate and encourage your team to seek resolutions that support the interests and needs of all parties.

Understand style differences

Human beings have pre-set personalities that make them behave in a certain way. Differences in styles could be a source of misunderstanding and hence conflict. To minimize conflicts due to style differences, you can use personality assessments with appropriate training tools that explain to the team the “work,” “expressive,” “interpersonal,” and “emotional” styles of the other team members. Usually, when people understand each other, conflicts tend to subside.

Create a supportive environment

Give individuals room to express their ideas, experiment, and make mistakes. You can define expectations and set acceptable boundaries that still allow them room to manoeuvre. In addition, you can create an atmosphere where people can voice concerns and participate in the process of change on a continual basis. Another way of creating a supportive environment is to increase interaction between groups in conflict by exchanging members of these groups. A temporary shifting of people between teams will sometimes help them understand the other’s problems and frames of reference. The result should be better communications, greater understanding, and less future conflict.

Encourage face-to-face communication

Minimize the use of distant communication methods such as e-mail, text messaging, voice mail, and similar tools in situations where conflict may arise. Indeed, most conflicts arise out of miscommunication. Because of the importance of communication in conflict resolution, it is imperative that you get your team to communicate well. The art of listening is a great starting point for building communication skills. Aside from understanding what the other party is conveying, an important second outcome is that the speaker feels heard. When someone feels heard, positive rapport begins to develop. When it comes time for this person to listen to you, you will have a willing listener.

Move On

The world is changing at a rapid pace and every new day brings its own challenges. People who get stuck in yesterday’s problems cannot deal with today’s. Moving on may be difficult, but it is absolutely necessary.

Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.

 William Channing, theologian

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