These conflict resolution strategies can put the ‘calm’ in your company.
Conflict is one of the most often explored topics in just about every discipline, industry, and organization; and long-term and post-acute care is no exception. It seems that we just can’t seem to figure it out. We are taught to create win-win situations while working with simply irascible characters and to have candid conversations with unreasonable tyrants. No wonder there is so much fuss! In truth, most conflicts do not reflect those extremes. Run-of-the-mill conflicts are between reasonable (or semi-reasonable) people with different positions and perspectives.
What follows are three strategies for addressing conflict. Notice that I did not say resolving or managing conflict. That is because I do not believe all conflicts are manageable or solvable. There are some conflicts that are simply there. Participants live in a truce state and agree to peacefully coexist.
- Diagnose the root of the conflict. Is it rooted in power and control? If so, that would suggest that one person needs dominance over another and has a desire or need to assert his/her perceived power or superiority. Is the conflict rooted in different or competing values? This would indicate the need to ask participants to become aware of and openly surface their core values as they relate to the work. While some may value excellence in the finished product, others may value getting to the finished project. It is important to have collective conversations about what team members value. You will be surprised to know what matters most. There is tremendous diversity in today’s workforce, and that includes diversity in values. Finally, is the conflict rooted in resource allocation, i.e., are there departments with too much and departments with too little? Are people asked to perform Herculean tasks with meager tools? Leaders are well-served to analyze how resources are allocated and whether those allocations support reaching strategic objectives.
- Recognize that conflict is neither positive nor negative. It is our responses that determine which way the pendulum will swing. If you can perceive conflict as a source of creativity, new approaches, different ideas, and a wider range of options, you are more likely to view conflict as a natural part of relationships that can be embraced. The reverse is also true; if you fear conflict or find it threatening, you are less likely to see it as a source of innovation or learning. Getting to the recognition that conflict can play a positive role in organizations requires that all parties be willing to talk about what they are seeing, feeling, and experiencing. This can be quite enlightening. We often make assumptions about the intent and motives of others. Developing safe forums for conversation is a useful way to surface conflict. This invites multiple perspectives and ensures that all voices are heard. It can be a heart-expanding experience that forges new bonds.
- It’s all about atmosphere. There are atmospheres that are breeding grounds for negative conflict. Equally as important, there are atmospheres that sow the seeds for healthy disagreements to emerge. Create the healthy atmosphere by teaching people to be courageous listeners. These individuals use their heads and their hearts when hearing from others. They are willing to risk being persuaded. They acknowledge the value of messages, even messages they don’t agree with, because they acknowledge the value of the people behind the messages.
What else goes into a healthy environment where conflict is used for teaching, learning and growth? The ability to make mistakes without fear of repercussions is key. This means that managers and supervisors, or peers, for that matter, do not shame people when they err. It also means that mistakes are put in perspective. There is a difference between a significant medical error and an internal memo not getting out on time.
The final element of the atmosphere is forgiveness. When people at all levels are willing to forgive each other for their human frailties, there is a greater chance that diverse perspective can breed healthy conflict. There is also a greater likelihood that employees will commit deeply and invest their energy in the organization.
There need not be so much fuss about conflict. Instead, we need to learn how to harness the energy from differences and use that to create positive outcomes for organizations. This requires an analysis of the root of the conflict–the recognition that conflict, in and of itself, is neutral. Finally, there has to be attention to atmosphere. These strategies will enable you to calm the fuss.
Joanne L. Smikle, PhD has extensive experience consulting with aging services organizations interested in enhancing their effectiveness through developing leadership competence and strategic clarity. She is a respected authority on leadership and organization development. She serves as faculty in the Department of Leadership and Management at Saybrook University. Read more of her work at smiklespeaks.com.