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Why Can't We All Just Get Along? (It turns out, we're not supposed to!)

By Bob Taylor
August 30, 2011

I don’t meet many people who actually enjoy conflicts—in fact, in my experience, many people and companies go out of their way to avoid acknowledging a conflict is even brewing. Let’s face it, when you bring two or more people together, conflict is inevitable. I’m told it is human nature. Yes, conflict can be scary, but it can also be healthy and essential to your growth. Kind of like eating your vegetables!

For today’s discussion, I am defining conflict as a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests, or concerns. The type of conflict we’re talking about is not just a mere difference of opinion; it is a situation in which at least one person involved feels threatened in some way. Conflicts can be deeply personal, deeply emotional—and many people’s passions tend to accompany their conflicts. And that means conflict management is not for the faint of heart. You have to ask yourself, how can I be better equipped to identify and manage the conflicts in my areas of responsibility?

If you embrace the notion that conflict management is essential to sustaining a great working environment, then you need to proactively manage the process from beginning to end. You need to make it easy for people to say ‘Hey, I have a conflict over here.’ This means you don’t leave it to chance and you put mechanisms in place that encourage people to identify a conflict that needs to be resolved. It also means that we should track (measure) known conflicts as they are “worked” through your resolution process. After all, if you’re not counting and assessing them, I’ll have a hard time believing you’re really managing them.

There are a lot of models or techniques available to help resolve the actual conflict, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you’ll do a little research, rest assured you’ll find a technique that will work for you. That said, there’s no substitute for real-world experience, so don’t hesitate to dive in.  The steps that we use at Orgwide are outlined in the table below, along with some examples of how to do each step.

I find this seven-step method to be an effective approach in most situations, even if I only use it as a mental checklist while the conflict is happening in “real time”. We must also realize that conflicts can be messy things with lots of twists and turns. For that reason, I think it’s safe to say that since conflicts are rarely as easy to understand as they may appear on the surface, we shouldn’t try to operate with a one-size-fits-all approach to resolution. In other words, don’t become process-bound…in some situations, urgency may trump protocol when expediting a prescribed resolution.

If you don’t remember anything else from this blog other than this, take care of conflicts as soon as they are on your radar. Don’t let them fester, stew, or ferment! Conflicts, when properly managed, can help your team grow strong.

About the Author:
Bob Taylor, co-founder and CEO of OrgWide Services, brings 30 years of hands-on management, real-world leadership, and business experience to our organization. Bob's enthusiasm and commitment for developing skills in others has resulted in a synthesis of a business and personal philosophy that culminated in the inception of Orgwide.  A former Sr. Manager in FedEx's world-recognized Leadership Institute, Bob learned the leadership trade by practicing and applying his lessons in the trenches.  After an impressive career in operations at FedEx, Bob was invited back to headquarters to train and develop other leaders.  Bob was rewarded for his contribution to the success of the Leadership Institute and its students when he received the company's most coveted award for individual contribution, the Five-Star Award for Excellence.  In 1995, Bob elected to open RFTaylor & Company, a management consultancy serving such corporate clients as Emerson Electric, FedEx, Hilton Corporation, and Nike, Inc., to name a few.   

Jim Hartigan
Chief Business Development Officer & Partner
OrgWide Services
165 N. Main Street, Suite 202
Collierville, TN 38017
office: 901.850.8190  Ext. 230
mobile: 901.628.6586

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