Managing Conflict in the Workplace

by: Cara Griffin-Locker, IMH
We all have a desire and need for a sense of control.  Having control gives us power and helps us predict and manage events in the world around us. However, the need and desire for control can be unsatisfying and eventually lead us to conflict with others. This is especially common in the workplace. How does one get control? They take it, makes decisions and then start to give commands. This is usually when conflict arises. Conflict occurs when others also seek control and the result is often a vicious cycle of fighting for power.  Ultimately, the greater the desire to control, the greater the fear of losing it. Unless we live as a hermit we cannot do everything ourselves. So how do we manage control conflicts in the workplace? Here are some helpful tips that you can utilize when faced with obstacles that create dilemmas.

1)      Define acceptable behavior- Having a definition of what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Create a framework for decision making and clearly define job descriptions so that people know what is expected of them. Also, establish a chain of command for effective communication. Clearly and publicly make it known what will not be tolerated.

2)      Hit conflict head on- While you can’t always prevent conflicts, seek out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervene in a just and decisive fashion. This will likely help prevent certain conflicts from arising. If a conflict does come about, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly. Time spent identifying and understanding natural tensions will help to avoid unnecessary conflict.

3)      Understanding the “what is in it for me” factor- It is critical to understand others’ motivations prior to voicing an opinion. To help avoid conflict, focus on those around you and their objectives.  If you approach conflict from this perspective you will find few obstacles will stand in your way when it comes to resolving conflict.

4)      The Importance Factor- Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. If the issue is vital enough to create conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication.

5)      View conflicts as opportunity- Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development.

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