Effective Conflict Management

Whenever two people with different ideas square off in a confrontation, good conflict managers advocate for collaboration, where everyone feels their opinions are heard and valued. Rarely do we have that much time. Instead, when it comes to resolving conflict over high-priority issues on a tight schedule, many times a CEO will actually need to force a solution. This means that relationships will be strained, and it will take some time to repair them. So, before you put your foot down, take a moment to consider these three variables and weigh all your options to avoid fostering resentment among your followers.

  • Issue importance: Are your company values or principles at stake, or will priorities suffer if the conflict is not resolved quickly?

  • Relationship importance: Do you need to be able to work closely with the parties involved, and how much will your intervention affect trust and respect in those relationships?

  • Relative power: Is the power you have over the ultimate decision completely overarching? Or, will you risk undermining your own authority with a loss if you try to put a stop to this conflict?

Before employing a “forcing” strategy to impose your will over a conflict, first consider if it would be more prudent to use another conflict management strategy that might be easier on all involved. Consider every conflict as it relates to the three variables above, then choose your approach.

  1. Forcing is the strategy It's less conflict management, and more of a squashing of any and all dissent. It's immediately effective, but has long-term ramifications.

  2. Accommodation is a way to completely preserve the opposing party's ego by giving in. If the solution offered doesn't compromise corporate principles and your relationship with this party is important, give in. (Also known as, “Pick your battles.”)

  3. Avoidance is generally a bad idea, even for interpersonal conflicts. Sometimes, however, it's the way to deal with an issue when you have more pressing items on your plate. It could more aptly be called “deferred conflict management.”

  4. Compromise is called a “win-win,” but it's really a meeting in the middle where neither party gets what he wants. It puts everyone on equal footing, because everyone loses, just a bit. (win-win or lose-lose, depending on your perspective), or collaborate (best option, where both parties are heard and work together to find a solution). If a situation demands that you make an executive decision and force a solution, be prepared for the clean-up that's sure to follow. The damage that forcing can do to trust and respect can take a very long time to repair.

  5. Collaboration is the conflict management approach that requires the most time, does the least damage, and sometimes helps inspire creativity and teamwork. This is the goal of most conflict managers, and can be implemented (after you've employed another strategy to solve an immediate problem) to repair relationships and rebuild trust and communication.

“The better able team members are to engage, speak, listen, hear, interpret, and respond constructively, the more likely their teams are to leverage conflict rather than be leveled by it.” - Runde and Flanagan

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