You can't anticipate everything
Sometimes it's possible to spot the early signs of conflict
and take preventative action. But there'll also be occasions where this isn't possible. Disputes can build by slow increments – so slowly, in fact, that even the parties involved are unable to foresee the outcome.
Case study: conflict resolution
John works for a company called Stationery Supplies. He's worked there for several years. A few months ago a new member of the team was recruited to help him with his growing workload. Over a period of months some of John's responsibilities were gradually handed over to this person – and this made him feel threatened. John was concerned this new team member might replace him if they proved to be more effective, so he began holding on to his workload instead of delegating it. This resulted in an argument ensuing, with the newcomer accusing John of mistreating him. A manager was forced to intervene and implement conflict resolution measures.
Case study: conflict avoidance
Sarah manages a team of ten customer service advisors. Because her responsibilities have increased she needs help supporting them. After careful consideration, she decides she'd rather promote from within. Four candidates are shortlisted and two make it through to the final interview – Tom and Milly. This presents Sarah with a dilemma. Tom hasn't worked for the company as long as Milly – but he has previous management experience and is clearly the better choice. Anticipating the objections that will be raised at the meeting, Sarah is able to prepare her responses. She tells Milly that, although she wasn't successful, she'll be giving her some other responsibilities within the team – meaning she'll be able to gain valuable experience that'll put her in a stronger position next time a role becomes available.
The main differences
Conflict resolution and conflict avoidance are both working toward the same aim. They represent attempts to resolve differences before they become serious problems. In both cases the solution can only be reached by developing an understanding of the needs of both parties – either through anticipation or direct intervention.
Conflict avoidance is preferable, as potential arguments can be diffused before they have the ability to manifest themselves. That said, any good conflict management course should look at both eventualities; after all, despite your best efforts, there are some conflicts you'll never be able to plan for.
Senior managers will no doubt have experienced different types of conflict. They'll also be aware of the damage this causes - to productivity, morale and overall departmental effectiveness. Happier staff will produce better results, and this will reflect favourably upon the person running that team, so it's in everyone's best interests to diffuse conflict before it becomes harmful.
we offer conflict management as part of our team leader courses which cover a host of people management skills. Whether it's a clash of values, interests, or a personality clash, we provide you with the tools you need as a line manager to turn a confrontation into a positive outcome.
How does conflict affect you?
Have you been directly affected by conflict at work? If so, how did it make you feel and were you able to resolve the situation amicably with the other party?
Perhaps you're a senior manager and would like to share some of the strategies you've used to manage conflict within your department. Leave your comments below – we're looking forward to reading them.