Taming of Conflict It is popular understanding that “Conflict” is a state of the mind that starts as a psychological, mental struggle from opposing thoughts, beliefs, demands, impulses etc. Depending on the situation it may be dealt with appropriately else would morph to the next level. The ‘clash’ is an indelible part of our lives, therefore being able to accept and overcome it is a challenge and a skill. ♦ Conflict could be within oneself or with others. Conflict with oneself - internal conflict occurs when there is lack of clarity in the thought process. And to resolve this, we need to be able to talk to ourselves through the different opposing ideas. Expected end result should be a harmonious thought process. Conflict with oneself happens when we have black, white and ‘gray’ areas in our thought process. As long as we have a clear definition of right and wrong, most of our internal conflicts lose tenacity. ♦ Conflict between team members needs to be handled with a more caution and finesse. If handled right it can improve productivity, creativity, performance and morale. How conflict is born, develops, gets resolved depends on a number of variables some of which depends on our thought process, human behavior within an environment, challenges, our perspective of the past & future, change, how we interact etc To many of us, dealing with conflict in an organization depends on the “Culture” - a complex arrangement of a number of interrelated processes and mechanisms that keeps business going. There are different theories on levels of conflict, conflict resolution methods but at the end of the day it depends on the situation & where do we want to go as an organization & what do we stand for. Usually the organizational values and mission define a clear path for dispute resolution. We read about ‘successful organizations’ (success being financial success) where there is cut throat competition, defined targets, and a do-or-die attitude, yes such organizations flourish but sometimes at the cost of losing employees for lack of empathy and high turnover even though they maybe meeting or exceeding profit margins. The mission & values often reflect the same. The key components to be considered here are the need to create a context of trust, mutual responsibility, and mutual accountability. Each situation maybe different and may require a different treatment. According to Ancient Indian text Arthasasthra from the 3rd Century B.C, Sama, Dana, Bheda, Danda are the way to go. The four devices: sama - conciliation/peaceful approach, dana reward, bheda - being firm and danda – punishment/using the stick. As concepts, these are universal and are applicable to a variety of areas including the workplace if such effort will remedy a given situation. As a child I learnt this term from my Chemistry teacher when she wanted us to memorize the Periodic table in 9th Grade. Some possible causes of conflict in the workplace are:
Difference of opinion on process, technology, concepts Interpersonal differences Difference of view on debatable topics e.g. politics – not directly relevant to work. Perceived breach of trust Unresolved disagreements at an emotional level Miscommunication Ambiguity in rules, regulations, policy & reward system Personality clashes Unrealistic expectations Lack of clarity on roles, responsibilities, measure of success Bias
Resolving Conflict What would help? Ground rules on expectations (from deliverables to individual behaviors) this will avoid uncertainty on what is allowed, accepted, rewarded and what is not thereby defining clear roles, responsibilities, business processes. The PMBOK defines ‘confronting’ as the best method for resolving conflict. But irrespective of whether we follow PMBOK or not to resolve conflict, it helps to consider the following: • • • • • • • • • •
Ensure communication process is adequate. Respect individual dignity and where they come from Listen with empathy & listen to understand both said and unsaid messages Share thoughts without fear of retaliation Don't assume perceptions when it has not been expressed explicitly Create alignment around core team processes. The team should meet and discuss core team processes to create alignment on what they do and how they will operate. Identify, accept & appreciate differences among people Accept the ego as an existing issue. Take/share responsibility for the conflict Generate solutions & find agreement
But then we also need to step back & think of the organization we work for: • • • • • • • •
The organization mission, vision, and values Decision making process & protocol The roles and responsibilities of each team member How conflicts are defined to be handled by the process discussed at early stages. How they are resolved & lessons learnt documented. How team members will be trained Definition of each one’s ‘lakshman rekha’ – a convention that may refer to the ethical limits of one’s roles & actions. Using star performer to train others.
In general, any business process that may present the possibility of conflict should be discussed and various means of resolving it must be discussed, risks identified and a
remediation plan must be available. All stakeholders must have access to people/process/technology. Also, an employee’s satisfaction with his/her immediate boss in handling conflict ensures good morale and creates a feeling of a ‘support system’ in place to ensure issues are dealt appropriately. One of the simplest, but best, ways to deal with team conflict is to develop a resolution process at the outset. Discuss with team about the unavoidability of conflict and explore methods of dealing with it. The process can vary from team to team or department to department, so an organization may develop more than one process that each member agrees to abide by. When conflicts arise, use the process. …..About Payback & Paying forward Although it is difficult to accept, it is a fact that there are genuine benefits in resolving conflicts. Benefits can come in the form of mental peace, personal growth, stronger relationship, productivity, morale etc. Honest, genuine feedback/conversation, as often as necessary not only provide a feeling of deep satisfaction but also a trust that ensures that the team would deliver - no matter what. Where would we be without certain differences of opinions & thoughts? We’d be the organization that suffers from low morale, apathy, no passion to improve, & no creativity for higher success.