The following is a guest post from Carol Hacker. Carol is the President and CEO of Hacker & Associates. She specializes in helping HR professionals and teaching managers, supervisors, team leaders, executives and business owners how to meet the leadership challenge. She’s the author the bestseller, Hiring Top Performers-350 Great Interview Questions for People Who Need People.
The common denominator in workplace conflict is often a breakdown in communication. Although conflict is normal and a part of everyday life, when it gets hurtful, it’s not only a problem, but it can be dangerous. Conflict offers an opportunity for change and improved communication if employees are open to looking at conflict from a new perspective. The sources of conflict can be almost anything; the resolve to turn conflict into opportunities is a choice.
Here are nine ways to turn conflict into opportunities:
Opportunity #1–Conflict can lead to opportunities when it involves a team of people. Teams often try to resolve a problem as a group. When they make a decision, it is often based on additional information that probably wouldn’t have been obtained had the conflict occurred and impacted more than just a handful of people.
Opportunity #2–Conflict can positively impact communication. Conflict and the escalators that sometimes make matters worse can actually improve communication. If employees are confused, or don’t understand your expectations it can lead to conflict. Your job is to solicit feedback. Engage them in discussion and get their buy-in. The more input you get from your staff, the easier it will be to resolve conflict and grow as a team.
Opportunity #3–Conflict can alert you to morale problems. If you suspect that morale is low, it’s a tip-off that conflict may be behind the problem. Most employees hate conflict and their morale and eagerness to engage will be stifled if you allow it to continue. As a leader in your organization you have an obligation to step up to the plate and work toward making changes for the better.
Opportunity # 4–Conflict can be energizing when it forces people out of their comfort zones. Conflict evolves and is fueled by opposing interests. It intensifies when values are different and trust erodes. When conflict is commonplace, some employees tend to get comfortable and sometimes lazy when it comes to job responsibilities and meeting expectations. Your role is to use conflict as a springboard for dialogue and rallying your employees to talk about what’s on their minds, but still recognize that many people don’t like to leave their comfort zone. Don’t get stuck on start when it comes to a goal of energizing your employees via conflict.
Opportunity #5–Conflict can help improve productivity. Conflict is definitely a problem when productivity is impacted because one or more of your employees is not getting along or is verbally fighting with someone else every time you turn your back. Don’t avoid it or pretend it’s not happening. Work to turn conflict into improved productivity. But how? State your position: “I feel… I think… or we have a problem that’s impacting our productivity.” Be ready to share specific examples—actions that you’ve observed. Generalizations will get you nowhere. Your goal is a “win-win” or “no-lose” outcome or solution to whatever is causing the conflict.
Opportunity #6–Conflict can provide opportunities for negotiations. Negotiations often start with conflict—conflict with or among employees; conflict with vendors or suppliers; conflict with customers—not something we want to happen, but the reality is that it does from time to time. You can improve your opportunities for successful negotiations by gathering information to learn as much as you can about the situation, checking to be sure what you’ve said has been understood, and looking at both sides of the story.
Opportunity #7–Conflict provides an opportunity for growth. On-going conflict can stymie your operation and cause people to shut down. The more you know about how you and your employees prefer to deal with conflict, the easier it will be for you to resolve it. As the HR professional, there are times when you will find yourself in the middle of arguments or angry employees who won’t listen. The more you know about the importance of how conflict hurts growth, the easier it will be to train managers and supervisors how to handle workplace conflict, as well as the costs associated with doing nothing about it.
Conflict #8–Conflict can improve your meetings. If the manager as well as the team members are open to listening and working on solutions in a group setting or staff meeting, everyone may get a different and valuable perspective regarding where there’s a problem and how the problem can be resolved. In addition, make sure there are ground rules for how conflict in meetings will be handled when they arise. Use team-building exercises, such as brainstorming or mind-mapping to get to the root of problems.
Conflict #9–Conflict can be a very good thing. The way that you handle conflict can make the difference between a good and a no-so-good outcome. If you choose to adopt behavioral changes in the way that you react to conflict, you can lead others toward building a closer, stronger bond. Remember that you have a choice in everything you do and say, all of which is a direct reflection on you as a leader.
In summary, we all have to deal with conflict at work and in our personal lives. Yet, inherent in conflict are opportunities. The two keys to getting the positives out of conflict are to: 1) Recognize conflict as a springboard to improvement and 2) Learn and then practice the skills for managing conflict. Whether in one-on-one interactions, in meetings, or during negotiations, conflict is manageable although at times uncomfortable. Don’t allow it the bad press that it always seems to get. Look for the hidden opportunities and then make it happen!
Carol can be reached at: www.carolahacker.com or 770-410-0517