When I ask people in training courses and workshops to cite some images or associations they have with the concept of ‘conflict’, I usually get a whole list of negatives (angry, war, hate, stress…) and very few positives. ‘I don’t like conflict’ is a common refrain, so I do my best to avoid it’. Yet if we think about it, how realistic is it to want to avoid all potential conflict situations?
What is conflict after all but a situation where people have different viewpoints, with a bit of emotional attachment thrown in. So whether the project should be done my way or yours could cause conflict, less likely are diverse views as to which hobbies or wine we prefer. In every workplace, where there are on-going and interdependent relationships with a variety of viewpoints on how and what should be done, conflict is inevitable.
If we don’t view conflict as inevitable, then ask yourself – should most staff/managers be able to do any of the following?
- Raise issues with a team member or a direct report that could be potentially contentious?
- Hold others accountable for work tasks agreed and set?
- Give constructive feedback?
- Negotiate and influence others with integrity and respect?
- Be able to integrate a variety of perspectives and viewpoints in problem-solving discussions?
- Able to use probing questions to get at the essence of what’s being communicated by another person?
- Be able to play the ball rather than the ‘man’/’woman’ when a disagreement arises
The above list of skills occur daily in many people’s jobs – certainly for those at management level. They also encompass core skills and knowledge in the area of ‘conflict management’.
Most management/leadership courses offer one day or one module on ‘conflict management’ but it’s frequently not considered a core organisational value or competency, to be continuously improved and fostered for all staff.
In order to be able to effectively engage with people around issues that need to be talked about, it’s essential to have ongoing support and review of a measurable set of ‘managing conflict’ competencies, just like any other essential components of the job.
Why it’s so important:
In a 2008 CIPD survey of 660 HR practitioners, almost half found they have to manage conflict at work ‘frequently or continually’, taking on average almost 4 hours per week. Yet almost a third of companies provide no training for staff in this area. Similarly a 2013 CIPD report cited managing difficult conversations to be ‘the most frequent skill gap for front-line supervisors by HR professionals’.
There is a significant body of research in recent years (IBEC, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development etc.) citing the importance of ensuring line managers are conflict competent.
As Thomas Crumm (1987) states ‘It’s not whether you have conflict in your life, it’s what you do with it that conflict that makes a difference’. Avoiding the high costs of destructive conflict means ensuring staff and managers have the skills, knowledge and attitudes to engage with and manage the inevitable conflicts that arise in every workplace.
Read more about core Conflict Competencies for Managers and Leaders here
Got an issue you are grappling with…? Mary Rafferty’s services include coaching, mediation and training in conflict related areas such as mastering difficult conversations and navigating tricky relationships.
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