Ronald Reagan once said that “peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” All of us will experience conflict both individually and in groups, but the ability to manage through that conflict will separate the high performing leaders and teams from the rest.
Conflict is normal. It is neither good nor bad. What makes the difference is how we manage conflict. Done right, it is very beneficial. Not managed well can lead to a variety of issues. High performing teams learn to communicate, value each other, and work through conflict. Understanding and managing conflict will enhance your leadership skills.
The first thing to understand about conflict is that all conflict is not the same. There are different types of conflict that arise between individuals and among teams. It’s important to identify which type(s) of conflict affects your team. This will help you utilize the right strategies to resolve the conflict.
There are three variations of conflict; relationship, task, and process. (Tekleab, Quigley, and Tesluk, 2009) Relationship conflict is potentially the most damaging and is rooted in the interpersonal relationships between team members and can be described through emotion-based words such as annoyance, frustration, or irritation. It often stems from differences in values between people. The second type of conflict is task-based which focuses on disagreements around what needs to be done by the team. This conflict is typically devoid of the intense emotions associated with relationship conflict. The third variation of conflict is a process related to the conflict. Process related conflict is rooted in the disagreement about how to reach a goal or how a task should be completed.
Some guidelines you can use when dealing with conflict include:
- Building consensus around how the team will manage conflict… developing rules of engagement.
- Facilitating team members in building relationships with one another.
- Accepting conflict as natural rather than good or bad.
- Identifying which type of conflict is present when conflict occurs.
- Acknowledging that conflict is present and clarify the facts over what is in contention.
- Managing conflict patiently and recognize that it is the only conflict. Avoid personalizing it. Focus on the problem, not the other team members, unless it is relational conflict.
- Identifying where there are agreement and disagreement.
- Looking for common ground where collaboration can begin.
- Developing a plan to resolve the problem.
A key tool for helping improve your ability to identify and resolve conflict within your team is to understand your conflict management style. This can be done by taking a conflict style profile assessment. Some managers have a direct style, while others may have an avoidance, collaborative, or accommodating style. Knowing your style will help you determine your strengths and weaknesses so you can adjust to the conflict at hand when needed. If you want to take a free assessment to identify your approach to conflict, give us a call at 916-788-1094.
Think about your team and the conflict it has gone through in the past. Can you relate those experiences to some of the information you just read? Could you have been more effective in dealing with that conflict?
As a leader, you have a strong influence on how the conflict will be resolved. A team can GO through the conflict or GROW through the experience leading the team stronger and/or demonstrating your ability to lead your team. “Managers are key in setting open communication norms and a cohesive and friendly environment which enhances both members’ attitudes and the group’s overall performance” (Jehn & Mannix, 2001).
You can learn more about how to manage conflict within your organization by contacting Switzer Associates and/or enrolling in our new Developing High Performing Teams Online Course. This course has a module that specifically addresses managing conflict.
- Amanuel Tekleab, Narda R. Quigley, and Paul E. Tesluk, “A Longitudinal Study of Team Conflict, Conflict Management, Cohesion, and Team Effectiveness,” Group and Organizational Management, 34(2,) (April 2009), 170-205
- Jehn, K. A., & Mannix, E. A. (2001). The Dynamic Nature Of Conflict: A Longitudinal Study Of Intragroup Conflict And Group Performance. Academy of Management Journal, 44(2), 238–251. doi: 10.2307/3069453
For the Faith-based:
The reality is that conflict is inevitable. Although many people think of conflict as a confrontational win or lose situation, the Bible shows us it doesn’t have to be that way if we learn to manage conflict effectively. Jesus was a master at managing conflict. While delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus dealt with conflicts brought about by people offending each other. Jesus also entered into conflict with religious leaders who were always trying to trap Him in His teachings. As Christian leaders, there are many teachings on how we can effectively manage conflict.
As you would expect, Jesus shows attributes of a direct style to resolving conflict in that He teaches we should resolve conflict quickly and directly. Jesus tells us to first go to the person one-on-one and quickly. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.” Jesus is saying to stop what you are doing and take care of the conflict.
Conflict can’t be avoided therefore effective leaders don’t ignore conflict; they manage it. Jesus also taught that no matter which side caused the problem, the solution is the same, which is to take initiative to resolve the conflict. When you have done something wrong, go and make it right and vice versa, when someone else has wronged you, you still take the steps to make it right. “If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody,” Romans 12:17-18. Wise leaders will devote time and learn how to effectively manage conflict.