A recent article on “How to avoid a culture war in business” got us here at Corporate Path Leadership thinking a bit more about conflict in general.
Conflict is inherent wherever we are. Especially in the workplace. The author for this article recognized that and made parallels between personal life conflicts and work life conflicts.
We want to take this idea a step further though. While it is important to recognize and behave like a professional in the face of conflict, we need to remember that the conflict itself is usually stirred up from an EMOTIONAL PERSPECTIVE and keeps us from addressing the true business issue behind the conflict.
Our advice for handling conflict is addressed in four steps:
1. Focus on identifying “What is the business challenge we are trying to solve.”
Sometimes this is not obvious and takes time to think through what the true business challenge really is when emotions are running high. That is especially the case if all the initial energy is instead focused on the conflict that can sometimes arise.
2. Get agreement on the business challenge with all parties involved in the conflict.
This is a big step. Especially in the middle of the conflict. It is easy for people to take sides and have a mindset that there is going to be a “winner” and “loser” for the conflict (and of course everyone wants to be on the winning team). Instead, the mindset should be on the ways the entire group can engage as a team, emotions aside, to solve the business challenge.
Solving this step might not come in the same meeting where the conflict surfaces. However, it is what needs to be addressed first, and should be the first agreed upon action from the parties in the conflict. If needed, a good action item may be a separate meeting, with a smaller group compiled of members of the conflicting sides, who then work together to solve the challenge(s) before coming back to the larger group.
3. Decide on a compromise.
Once the business challenge is agreed upon by those in the conflict, part of the resolution is to address what parties are going to give up (time, dollars, resources, revised launch date) to get to an answer for the business challenge. This can be particularly enlightening when one group realizes that another group will be hindered to solve something within a given amount of time or resources. As an example, the perception might initially have been that it would only take a group an hour to solve something – when in fact they needed 25-30 hours of staff time to work on a solution.
“Mutual understanding can do wonders for a corporate culture, but it must begin with each of us, individually, making the difficult decision to engage rather than divide. To focus on our commonalities rather than our differences. To practice restraint and exercise empathy.”-- Steve McKee, President, McKee Wallwork + Co.
4. Getting a written action plan that includes all parties for the solution.
It is true that one person or team may have more work or burden to solve a particular issue, but by creating a written action plan that includes actions for all groups, it will help ensure that arriving at the solution for the business challenge is a team effort.
Will these four steps solve all conflict and make everyone happy at work 24/7? Not always. But focusing the energy on the business issue and stepping away from the emotions of a conflict helps to make the team realize that an “us” vs. “them” is not productive — and that the new focus can build allies for future projects.
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