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Conflict may be inevitable - but it doesn't have to be destructive

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kidsatoddsThere are two types of office conflict: communication and emotion. We have all experienced breakdowns in communication whether it is because all pertinent information was not provided, or information is misinterpreted. We have all also experienced those moments when emotions drive decisions and effect relationships, processes, professionalism, and reputation. While no two situations are the same, conflict cannot be denied or painted over. Like a weed, avoiding the conflict will seed more conflict, etc, until you are overrun. Here are a few tips for dealing with conflict in your office culture.

1.) Define Appropriate Behavior.

We all deal with conflict in our own ways as a result of our individual socialization and emotional processing. Feelings are valid and expressing them is a legitimate exercise in emotional and social health. That being said, there is a time, place, and manner and acting outside of certain norms can be a breach in professional/social contracts. For instance, let’s say John and Greg disagree on the best approach for their mutual client. When meeting with their client, they disagree and even argue heatedly. Not only does this put the client in an expectedly uncomfortable social situation, but it also stirs doubt in their mind as to what actually is best for them. The display of discord is very unprofessional, and damaging for the company as a whole.

How can this be solved to avoid the conference room demonstration?

Organizational leaders have a responsibility to lead by example - through their own decorum as well as correcting others’, when necessary. This should be handled calmly and with sensitivity and an open mind. That being said, an unchecked toxic personality or relationship will pervade the entire culture. Whether expectations for behavior are formalized or not, they do need to be universally understood and adhered to.

2.) Tackle Conflict Head-on.

In most cases, conflict is avoidable if the potential is identified before it happens and is approached proactively. Unfortunately, some conflict can blow up unexpectedly. The best case scenario is that the two parties recognize and acknowledge a need for resolution and will work out a time and place for private respectful settlement.

In the case of immoveable positions, a leader may be forced to step in and mediate. This comes with a caveat, however. This meeting, alone, merits the importance of the leader exercising their authority. While they must hear both sides of an argument without bias, the leader should take control of the situation, and rule a judgement - whether it is that Greg’s idea for the client will be chosen, if Greg and John should not work together on projects, or even as basic as “this has to be worked out.”

3. Find the Opportunity in Conflict

The leader who can make an opportunity to learn or grow out of conflict is a leader, indeed. If approached with an open mind and an ear for inspiration, a leader can leverage conflict into innovation, new ideas, or identify pitfalls and inefficiencies. Resolving conflict for the sake of moving on is not the same as moving forward. Perhaps Greg’s idea was appropriate for the client, but John brought up some good points that could be developed. Or, maybe you see a breakdown in communication that could be remedied with new processes or team building. Perhaps the issue is a more personal one, and the office culture needs examining.

Conflict is a normal feature in any organization, but how a leader chooses to handle conflict is the key to successful resolution and growth. Constructive communication in these tense situations is imperative and should be be done deliberately, fairly, and with the goal of progress. At LM Thomas Group, we can help with all those “unseen” triggers like process breakdowns and culture dilemmas. Call us and tell us your story, and our team of experts will be ready with solutions.

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Kate Klipp

Kate Klipp is a Project Consultant with the L M Thomas Group

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