Monday, May 4, 2009




By Dr. Peter Honey
Every difference of opinion, every disagreement, is a conflict, either with a big or small 'c' depending on the magnitude of the difference.
Conflicts between people are inevitable as they try to agree priorities, make decisions, solve problems and work together. If there weren’t differences of opinion it would probably be a sign that people were apathetic or acquiescing by ostensibly saying yes, but in reality hiding major reservations.

Whilst conflicts are rarely welcomed, the offer splendid opportunities to:
-Reach a better solution than would have been possible if the conflict hadn’t arisen.
-Learn from the experience of facing the conflict squarely and addressing it constructively

It sounds pious to say it, but as a manager the way you handle conflicts is a decisive factor in whether they will result in win-win or win-lose outcomes and whether they will result in beneficial learning.

Broadly there are three different ways to react to conflict:

Avoid it. - Typically this involves:- denying the conflict exists- circumventing the person/people with whom you are in conflict- deciding not to make the conflict explicit or to raise it.

Diffuse it. - This involves:- smoothing things over, ‘pouring oil on troubled waters’- saying you’ll come back to it (as opposed to dealing with the conflict there and then)- only dealing with minor points, not the major issues.

Face it. - This involves:- openly admitting conflict exists- explicitly raising the conflict as an issue

All three approaches are genuine options when conflicts arise. There may be occasions when it is best to let it go (why win the battle but lose the war?) and there will be other occasions when some pussy-footing is appropriate.

Usually, however, facing conflict rather than avoiding it or diffusing it offers the most potential. But how you face it makes all the difference. You can face it aggressively or assertively.

People who face conflict aggressively
1. Are secretive about their real objectives
2. Exaggerate their case
3. Refuse to concede that the other person has a valid point
4. Belittle the other person’s points
5. Repeat their case dogmatically
6. Disagree
7. Interrupt the other person

People who face conflict assertively1. Are open about their objectives
2. Establish what the other person’s objectives are
3. Search for common ground
4. State their case clearly
5. Understand the other person’s case
6. Produce ideas to solve the differences
7. Build on and add to the other person’s ideas
8. Summarize to check understanding/agreement

You can convert conflicts into useful learning opportunities by refusing to adjudicate and doing everything you can to foster assertive behavior amongst protagonists. If you put your energies into helping them to find some common ground, however tenuous, and to build on it, then you not only make a constructive resolution more likely, you also make people work for it and learn as they do so.

David Anderson
Okanagan Training Solutions / Priority Management Interior BC
250 762-5096 / 1-877-762-5096

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