Apr 27, 2015

Collaborative Conflict – The Many Faces of Conflict

Picture: Courtesy of HuffPost

Picture: Courtesy of HuffPost

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled Collaborative Conflict – The 5 Myths. To go beyond those, this post will help you appreciate the many situations and circumstances that can be catalysts for conflict and a ways to collaborate with others in resolving each one. In the next, and last, post in this series, I’ll share the five key resolutions skills needed to increase your effectiveness in collaborating through conflict and achieve positive outcomes and four final tips.

Below are 14 areas of conflict and some ways to collaborate through them:

1) Lack of Trust
There are two main types of trust needed to avoid conflict:
• Trust in the intentions of others – that their words and deeds match and they will not take advantage of another team member for personal gain. Also, that they are value-based, ethical, and have integrity.
• Trust in the competence of others – that a team member has the skills, knowledge, and ability to carry out commitments for the success of the team.

2) Conflicting resources.
We all need access to resources – whether these are office supplies, help from colleagues, or even a meeting room – to do our jobs well. When more than one person or group needs access to a particular resource, conflict can occur. The first thing that can be done to completely eliminate this source of conflict is to make sure that the staff have everything they need to do their jobs well. When there is a limited amount of resources available, teach your people how to prioritize both their time and resources. Setting up a schedule for all to be able to access and see will help mitigate conflicting needs, as well as training your people how to negotiate with one another to prevent this type of conflict.

3) Conflicting styles.
Everyone works differently, based on individual needs and personality. Some people like to work on the “Big Picture”, while other prefer to get down into the minutia. Some people love the thrill of getting things done at the last minute, while others need the structure of strict deadlines. When working styles and personalities clash, conflict occurs. How can this type of conflict me managed? When you build your team, consider people’s working styles and natural group roles. There is a need for diversity in the personality and work styles and it’s important to coach your people on how they can most effectively interact with each of their team members. An open discussion that includes communication preferences and expectations from each member will reap the benefit of mutual understanding and cooperation.

4) Conflicting perceptions.
All of us see the world through our own filters we have created through our experiences in life and our beliefs. These differences in perceptions can cause conflict. An event that has very positive connotations to one person may send chills into another. Open communication and relationships that extend beyond just business can help eliminate this type of conflict, even during stressful times. In challenging times, the more information you share with your people, the less likely it is that they will come up with their own interpretations of events.
Office politics are also commonly caused by different beliefs and perceptions. Be aware of situations that might ignite a power struggle between individuals or groups and communicate even more when there is a potential for this. When such events occur, having established open and free communication ahead of the event will facilitate minimizing the impact.

5) Conflicting goals.
Managers or leaders sometime create conflicting goals in our work. One manager might tell you that speed is of utmost importance with customers, while another manager says that in-depth, high-quality service is the top priority. Those two goals can be quite difficult to reconcile. This is where a person must learn to manage upwards. By communicating to both managers the challenge of meeting the two goals simultaneously and asking them to set the priorities, then the conflict can be resolved.

6) Conflicting pressures.
Conflicting pressures are similar to conflicting goals. The difference is that conflicting pressures involves urgent and immediate tasks, while conflicting goals typically involve projects with longer timelines. If your people are experiencing conflict because of pressures of clashing short-term objectives, you can review the priorities and possibly reschedule tasks and deadlines to reduce the conflict.

7) Conflicting roles.
Even in today’s business environment where most roles have at least some ambiguity to them and many roles are cross-trained to some degree, we may have to perform a task that we consider outside our normal role and responsibilities. This may seem to cause us to step into someone else’s “territory”. This sets the stage for potential conflict and power struggles to occur. How can this type of conflict be minimized? Be sure that the major role and responsibilities within each role are clearly delineated. It’s difficult to hold people accountable if they don’t know what they are responsible and accountable for. Then, if team members are experiencing conflict over their roles and responsibilities, explain your strategy for assigning specific tasks or projects to a person which falls outside of their normal area. Your explanation could go a long way toward remedying the pressure.

8) Different personal values.
The names Enron, Arthur Andersen, and MCI are associated with their leaders asking, even forcing, their staff to act unethically. When a manager asks their staff to perform a task that conflicts with their individual ethical standards, will she/he do as their leader asks, or will they refuse? Refusal could lead losing their boss’s trust or even the job. When work conflicts with our personal values and ethical standards like this, conflict quickly arises. As a leader it is imperative to avoid creating this conflict by practicing ethical leadership. An authentic servant leader will never to ask their people to do anything that clashes with their values.

9) Unpredictable policies.
When rules and policies change at work and the change isn’t communicated clearly, then confusion and conflict occurs. When rules and policies change, we should make sure to communicate exactly what the change is and, more importantly, the strategy for changing the policy. When people understand what the strategy and end result of the rules are, the change becomes much more acceptable. Once the rules are in place, strive to enforce them fairly and consistently. If workplace policies aren’t applied consistently, the disparity in treatment can also become a source of conflict.

10) Misunderstandings
Conflict can arise from misunderstandings about:
• The nature, goals and objectives of a job
• Differing expectations about how things should be done
• Work conditions and wages
• The different responsibilities of management and employees
• Differences in values, beliefs, needs, or priorities

11) Poor Communication
Communication relies on clear and complete messages being both sent and being received. Both managers and workers are responsible for ensuring that they fully consider the intent of the messages they send and receive. Here are some ways to improve information flow and communication:
• Take a few seconds to consider the intent of any communication before you say or write it. This will minimize communicating emotions instead of the intended outcome.
• Think about the ‘filters’ and beliefs of your own and the person or people you are communicating with. This will help to minimize misunderstandings and creating unintended offenses. (Langua-Culture)
• Some information can be distributed through emails, memos, and other written media. Information that can be volatile, emotional, or perceived as uncaring and without empathy should be held in-person or, at the very least in live video streaming.
• Though most people complain about meetings, holding frequent employee meetings can help employees feel significant, that they have an opportunity to contribute, and feel more connection with the leadership of an organization
• Ensure correspondence is easily accessible and referred to
• Distribute minutes of all meetings promptly and widely
• Ensure there is clarity about what the objectives are and about what decisions have been made
• Ensure decisions are promptly executed

Employees communicating ineffectively to clients is another common source of conflict. The companies with that are considered the best in customer service are those that train their people well in customer service beliefs, behaviors, and communication and then empower their people to act.

12) Lack of Planning
Lack of planning creates an environment where an organization moves from one crisis to the next. This sense of disorganization and lack of direction can cause a lack of trust. See item #1 above. The time spent in planning will be recouped many times over in the more efficient use of workers’ time, and in real and long-term benefits to clients.

13) Poor Employee Selection
People that don’t fit the culture of a team or company can cause conflict. And, constant turnover adds to the feeling of lack of competence and lack of stability of the organization.

14) Frustration, Stress and Burnout
Frustrated and stressed employees are more irritable and more likely to create conflicts. It is important to recognize the signs of stress in people’s work situations in order to prevent burnout. Be on the watch for signs of stress, both work-related and personal. Help your people to identify the causes of their stress, and take steps to change these factors or, better still, try to anticipate possible causes of stress before they arise. Work factors could include:
• Threats of violence or actual violence
• Overcrowding or lack of privacy
• Verbal abuse
• Dirty and/or disorganized work space
• Noise
• Harassment
• Continual crises
• Lack of ability to influence the working environment
• Tension between staff members
• Lack of direction from management
• Criticism and lack of support
• Poor communication

No doubt you have experienced several of these examples. The results you experienced may have varied and that’s the reason the next post will share with you five skills and four final tips on effectively collaborating through conflict.

Dr. Edward Lewellen is a Master Executive Coach, leadership and sales expert, and keynote speaker for some of the largest global organizations.

Phone: 972.900.9207
Email: Ed@Trans-Think.com