Do You Manage Conflict or Does Conflict Manage You?

When conflict is ignored—especially at the top—the result will be an enterprise that competes more passionately with itself than with its competitors.”— Howard M. Guttman, When Goliaths Clash, 2003


Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time putting out fires, particularly interpersonal ones. Some say at least 20 percent of their time is consumed by managing conflict. Productivity decreases even further when coworkers ruminate over arguments and disagreements.


As long as Western culture values democratic processes and individual freedoms, some teams will encourage debate. This may not be a bad thing, as innovative ideas often spring from those who refuse to “go along just to get along.”


Therefore, conflict should be neither suppressed nor ignored within a team. When it goes unnoticed, it will worsen and invite interpersonal stress. Eliminating conflict is not the answer, and teams that take this approach are also doomed to fail.


Trend analysts predict workplace conflicts will rise because people face increased pressure to produce more and better with fewer resources. Job insecurity, a fluctuating economy, the stress of technological advancements, and an epidemic of outsourcing and downsizing are putting today’s work force on edge.


There is a strong link between the ability to resolve conflict and one’s perceived effectiveness as a leader. According to research from the Management Development Institute of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, effective managers resolve conflicts by employing four key behaviors:

  1. Gaining perspective
  2. Creating solutions
  3. Expressing emotions
  4. Reaching out


Those who succeed are deemed more suitable for promotion. But most team leaders are trained in the competencies required for their careers and industries. They aren’t necessarily astute negotiators of people’s emotions and relationships.


Managed well, conflict can stimulate creativity, motivate people to stretch themselves, encourage peer-to-peer learning and help teams move beyond the status quo. Your task, as a leader, is to conduct tough conversations that help resolve most workplace conflicts.

Tough conversations are hard to have, worth having, but not worth risking poor outcomes.

That’s why I recommend working with an experienced coach. 


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