It seems as though no good can occur on the job when conflict rears its ugly head, but maybe conflict can work to your advantage. That’s the message of Nancy Bandy, the managing director of Trainsitions Consulting Group, an organization that works to help companies use training initiatives to meet challenges in the work environment.
Bandy presented “The Art of Conflict Resolution” at the Mechanical Service Contractors of America’s (MSCA’s) Annual Education Conference.
The purpose of the workshop was to teach MSCA members how to recognize the outcome of unresolved conflicts, how to know when to take appropriate action to prevent conflict from escalating, how to anticipate the ways people react to conflict, and, most importantly, how conflict can be turned into a company benefit.
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEWBandy started the workshop by explaining to the attendees that everyone has a different view of conflict. She said that some people have the traditional view, which means that all conflict is harmful and should be avoided. Others have what is called the human relations view, which posits that conflict is just one part of group interaction and should be accepted. There is also the interactionist view, which says that conflict is a positive force and is absolutely necessary for a group of workers to perform effectively.
Bandy said that it is easy enough to see why some contractors and business owners have the traditional view of conflict. Conflict can result in lost productivity and could jeopardize working relationships. But these problems arise when conflict is left to escalate, Bandy said. She asserted that some conflict, if handled appropriately, may not only be a beneficial force, it could help your company survive.
“More organizations fail because they have too little conflict, not because they have too much,” Bandy said.
She pointed out companies and organizations such as Western Union, Eastern Airlines, and K-mart. According to Bandy, these entities ran into trouble because of stagnation. Instead of acknowledging conflict, which would have brought up detrimental problems, the companies decided to stick with the status quo. This move later ended up being a problem.
Bandy further explained that conflict arises when there are differing opinions in the organization or when a worker feels that he or she has been negatively impacted by someone’s actions.
Those with the traditional view of conflict usually believe that these negative feelings should be swept under the rug. They believe that bringing up or mentioning differing opinions in the company will cause a conflict that must be avoided at all costs.
Bandy said that from time to time it pays to look at things from the other angle. She explained that in some instances, conflict can be a means to bring about radical change. It can help to facilitate cohesiveness among coworkers and improve the effectiveness of individuals who have to work together.
The idea behind this belief is that if workers can voice their concerns or initiate a bit of conflict, problems or potential problems can be dealt with before they get out of hand.
ANALYZING CONFLICTBandy breaks conflict down into two types: functional and dysfunctional. Bandy said that to find out if the conflict in your company is functional or dysfunctional, you must determine the impact it is having on the performance of workers.
Conflict can be functional if it helps people to air their problems, enhances the understanding of issues and concerns, or prevents the company from slipping into stagnation. Functional conflict will have functional outcomes. It will help to improve the quality of decisions that are made with the company and will stimulate greater creativity and innovation. Also, it will help to release tension and bring workers together to achieve the company’s goals.
When conflict is dysfunctional, it prevents cooperation and makes communication between people more difficult. Instead of challenging ideas and beliefs, it only provokes rejection of ideas and makes people more inflexible. The outcome inevitably hinders productivity and teamwork, and inhibits forces for change.
The key, according to Bandy, is to let conflict exist, but don’t let it escalate to dysfunctional conflict. To deal with conflict and to keep it from becoming dysfunctional, Bandy said you must conduct a resolution meeting. The goal is to bring in the parties involved in the conflict and walk them through the following six steps. This action is designed to resolve the conflict, create a positive outcome, and prompt appropriate changes.
1. When conducting a meeting, first determine the nature of the conflict. Describe the potential losses if the conflict continues.
2. Have each party describe their desired outcome of the conflict. What would each party like to see happen?
3. Decide where the parties agree and come up with shared interests in the conflict.
4. The next step is to create a common vision, one that will please both parties.
5. Both parties must work together to create options for resolving the problem. Brainstorm some options that will help to support the common vision.
6. Finally, make sure that both parties commit to the ideas they have come up with. Make sure that action is taken after the meeting.
Bandy says that everyone has a different approach to handling conflict. But when parties come together to deal with their difficulties, it can turn “resistance into productivity.”
For more information, go to www.trainsitions.com (website).
Publication date: 11/11/2002