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I always say, one can tell more about an organization from how they fight, rather than how they work together.   Do the gloves come off?  Is dirty fighting the standard rather than the exception?   Are relationships a consideration, or, is winning the goal at all costs?

By establishing norms and incentives around certain behaviors we continue to receive those behaviors.

The questions we must ask in order to manage conflict are:

What does your system and culture support?

Does problem solving consider respect and relationship building?

Does your organization have a culture of norms supporting incredible customer experiences and high performance?

We must remember to be diligent about what is supported and encouraged because that is precisely what we will get, and more of it!

Again, we must ask the critical question, “Is what you support and encourage in true alignment to your stated purpose and values, as well as those of your stakeholders?”

Any time we assemble a team for a shared purpose, there will inevitably be conflict as the team begins to go through the stages of formation: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

Conflict may arise for a number of reasons. However, nearly all conflict arises from FEAR. Typically, fear of losing something such as sense of power or possessions or influence can create conflict.

We are often times better at recognizing conflict, rather than how to resolve the conflict.  In this article, we are going to focus on sharing solutions for resolving conflict and the understanding of the costs of conflict avoidance.

First, let’s examine how behaviors contribute to conflict.

Leaders contribute to conflict more than they may realize.  Two of the more common leader behaviors that contribute to conflict are one-way communication and a lack of clear guidance regarding roles and behaviors.

Leaders must be open to alternative perspectives and diverse input in order to continue to adjust to the ever-changing needs of clients and stakeholders.  Additionally, when top talent lacks guidance, we frustrate our talent and create confusion for our clients through lack of consistency.

Both of these common conflicts can be easily prevented by maintaining open communication and establishing clear guidelines, consistent with company mission and vision.

Next, we must recognize the fact conflict left unaddressed will only get worse, never better!  The relevance of this is significant, given how conflict-avoidant many people can be.  If you think, “Oh, it’s not a big deal, it will resolve itself” – think again!  Left unaddressed, the conflict continues.

Conflict costs corporations millions every year.  How much more profitable would you be if you reduced negative conflict by just 10% or 20%?

The most significant costs associated with conflict avoidance include wasting a lot of time that could be spent on productivity or service.  Additionally, think of what conflict does to your culture and stress of employees.  Top talent does not have to put up with a toxic culture and will turn over, costing the organization typically time and a half that person’s salary to replace.

Take a moment and calculate the approximate cost of all the ways negative conflict can cost you and your organization, not to mention the sheer stress and impact to employee health and absenteeism.

We all respond to conflict in a variety of ways and it often depends as well on the situation.  How we respond will either positively or negatively impact our relationships with those involved in the conflict.

In business and life, it always benefits the two parties to maintain relationships if at all possible.  How one responds to conflict depends on the persons involved, the situation, and the intent of outcome.

Typically, we do not respond to conflict in the same manner across different situations.  Keeping in mind the intent to resolve the conflict, enabling a win-win outcome and maintenance of relationships, dictates the appropriate response.

Our highest good in terms of responding to conflict generally lies in seeking mutually beneficial solutions.  However, there may be conditions in which it is more appropriate to compromise.  Yet, never does avoidance of conflict benefit the parties involved in the conflict.

In fact, some types of conflict can be good, if not downright necessary, for an organization.  If an organization is stuck and continues to do the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result, they may need conflict as a catalyst for change.  Positive conflict can also lead to an increase in creativity and innovation.  So, remember not all conflict is bad, yet it does require managing to yield benefits.

Finally, our mental models and approach to conflict will yield specific outcomes.  In order to positively and proactively approach conflict, begin by asking several questions to accumulate as much information as possible before responding.  Next, our approach must come from a belief that there is a mutually beneficial solution, followed by a commitment by the conflicting parties to operate as agreed.

Again, not all conflict is bad.  Conflict can be a positive push for individuals, teams and organizations.  Well-managed conflict can leverage the benefits and keep conflict from devolving into negative behaviors, impacting relationships.

For leaders and organizations who wish to reduce conflict and enjoy the benefits of well-managed conflict, you are invited to share this article with your teams as discussion points.  Be more profitable and attractive to top talent by “managing” conflict rather than “avoiding” conflict.  Conflict can be the proverbial elephant in the room, but it doesn’t have to be ignored, saving you and your organization valuable relationships, time and money.  We had a great time teaching conflict management this week at UMFP, University of Maryland Faculty Physicians, Inc.

Ryan McShane
HR Evolution LLC

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Ryan McShane is the President/CEO of HR Evolution, LLC a consulting firm specializing in Human Resources, Leadership Development and Career Transitions Consulting. Prior to that, Ryan worked in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, learning the various cultural norms, principles and practices of each sector and applying that learning to create High Performance Leaders and Organizations today throughout Maryland and Pennsylvania. Ryan is also the immediate past president for the largest Local SHRM Chapter in the state of Maryland, Chesapeake Human Resource Association, (CHRA). Ryan’s professional affiliations include serving on the Board of Chesapeake Human Resource Association (CHRA), Board member and Membership Director of Hunt Valley Business Forum, a founding member of Conscious Capitalism- Central Maryland, a Member of York, PA’s local SHRM chapter, a Member of UMBC’s Instructional Systems Development (ISD) Advisory Board, and a former Member of the Boomer Council, an advisory council focusing on civic engagement and mature workforce strategies. Ryan is passionate about creating and leveraging existing tools and systems to enable both individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential through greater awareness and a conscious approach to workforce management, honoring all stakeholders, wherein equal consideration is given to People, Planet and Profit.