In Business, Is It Best to Gloss Over Conflict, Or Face It Head On?

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Conflict happens.

While it’s not necessarily a slogan you’d want to slap on a t-shirt, it is a real component in every business. It comes in many forms, from small to large, and happens at all levels. Conflict can escalate. Conflict can spread. Conflict can destroy relationships (staff and customer trust), operational flow, and productivity. However, the conflict is generally not what is responsible for negatively impacting organizations—but rather, the way in which it is (or isn’t) resolved. Proper conflict resolution can even result in amazing, positive results for businesses. While the effects of not facilitating a resolution can be crippling.

Apple’s Lesson In Conflict

Steve Jobs, best known for his undeniable visionary strengths in leading one of the most successful businesses, was once fired from Apple…his own company. Early in his career, he was a great visionary, but not necessarily categorized as a good businessman. Jobs worked employees hard, and created a work environment rife with conflict. The most prominent of conflicts was an immense power struggle between Jobs and the CEO at Apple. Things came to a head, and resolution was needed. Apple’s Board of Directors fired Jobs. Jobs later admitted that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him. He made a point to learn how to be a great businessman, in addition to a visionary. And as they say, the rest is history. Jobs later came back to Apple as CEO and positioned the company to become the worldwide-leader in its niche.

Applying Communication Strategies in Conflict

All businesses will observe conflicts. The most common causes of conflict stem from communication problems, limited resources, varying goals, working relationships, individual differences, and organizational problems. Some conflicts, such as unhappy customers, unruly suppliers, unsatisfactory management styles, and micro-managers, can cause conflict and unpleasant work situations. The negative consequences for businesses can range from decreased productivity and employee dissatisfaction, to disengagement and work absences. Whereas other workplace conflicts can actually be positive. The conflicts can identify issues that are points of weakness for the business, and help to improve mediation skills of employees. Positive consequences for businesses can be improved solutions, positive change, increased interest, open discussion, and increased innovation/creativity. Either way, it is important to facilitate a resolution, often with the help of a mediator (a person not personally involved in the conflict to deliver an unbiased opinion).

Here are five key components for successful conflict management:

  1. Manage emotions, and avoid communication when emotions are high. (Sleep on it.)
  2. Don’t take it personally – instead of focusing on who did what and why, focus on the end goal. (Do not react immediately if you feel anger.)
  3. Figure out where the communication breakdown happened, remove assumptions based on perceptions, and lay it all out on the table.
  4. Always handle conflict face-to-face.
  5. Keep conversations focused on achieving an agreed-upon goal.
Many times, conflicts happen as the result of simple perception vs. intention miscommunication, and can be easily resolved through communication. While other times, the conflict may be more complex and run deeper within the organization. With 50% of business conflicts reportedly having a long-lasting impact on the individual, it’s important that businesses are proactive with communication and conflict resolution strategies, to attain a positive consequence whenever possible.

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