Q. I have a hard time with conflict. I don’t like it with friends, colleagues, family and certainly not with my boss. In a conflict situation, I am more apt to walk away and assume the situation will work itself out. My manager tells me I need to “develop a comfort” with conflict if I expect to move into a supervisory role. I do want to get promoted, so what can I do so I don’t get walked on, or react unprofessionally.
A. Dealing with conflict at work is part of life; some people may seem to enjoy it a little too much and others back away too quickly. It is easy to recognize reactions to conflict you don’t want to have, or be confronted with – screaming, or anything resembling violence, the silent treatment or not being able to have a conversation about the situation. Ignoring the need to deal with conflict is not a good career move for any individual contributor and especially for managers, or people looking to be in management.
There are effective ways to deal with conflict at work and doing so often contributes to solving business challenges with better results. Along the conflict scale, colleagues, or managers and employees, might have small disagreements over anything from annoying behaviors to the most effective way to do something. These issues are often resolved after a conversation with each side offering insight to his or her belief, the relative level of importance the resolution has for them and the potential gain or loss if the resolution they need is not forthcoming.
Conflict does not need to be coupled with anger. Try and look at the actual issues involved rather than the emotion behind not having things work the way you want. It does take both sides to make this happen and how you present the issue will influence the way the information is received.
These are the kind of situations you need to practice. Identify the discomfort you feel when there is conflict. Try to focus on the need for resolution as opposed to just the conflict. Try to see smaller conflicts as an opportunity to understand what someone else was or is thinking and how to promote an alternate point of view that offers better benefits to the organization. Often using the phrase, ”Help me understand,” can help get the conversation going without beginning with accusations and anger.
If there is an issue, you need to identify it and look for ways to solve the problem and who needs to be involved in the solution. Most people don’t want to call attention to situations that have not gone as expected, planned or up to organizational standards. Often raising issues for discussion is threatening to the person whose behavior or action is being called out. The person raising the issue is afraid of the potential response and may avoid the issue or skirt around it so much that the issue is not directly discussed, and not resolved.
As you develop the skills to sort out conflict, you will be able to solve business problems in a reasonable manner. Dealing with conflict is an important step in the process of gaining leadership skills and creating an effective team.
-Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners