Most managers believe that conflict in any work area is usually the result of “personality clashes,” “poor chemistry” or “a communication breakdown.” But usually this is not the case. Conflict is most often the result of opposition to or disagreement over goals or the ways to realize and accomplish them.
When conflicts arise over goals, there is a need to spell out and clarify the ownership of the decision (who will be held accountable for its end result) and whether there is a basic concurrence on essential objectives (shoulds, musts and oughts) as opposed to nonessential objectives (needs, wants and desires). Wrangling about objectives is usually strategic squabbling: for example, a difference of opinion over whether to pursue an increase in market share or an increase in productivity and profitability. Conflict about goals requires both an objective and subjective exchange of ideas and an ongoing evaluation among the interested parties. All of this, of course, is based on the fundamental recognition that it’s the end result that’s truly important.
Conflict about ways to achieve goals, however, is usually tactical and operational, as you would expect, and can occur even when there is consensus and agreement about the goals. To pursue an increase in market share, you can add to the sales force, increase advertising, cut prices and so on. Conflict about these options is usually best worked out through common sense and pragmatic analysis of the facts as they relate to both reward and risk. Those most affected by the goal should play a crucial role in evaluating alternative methods to accomplish it and in deciding which one(s) to use.
Resolving conflicts in the workplace is a constructive and critical management activity. It demands, however, applicable behaviors, some of which the manager can intentionally adjust to accomplish such resolution. The manager must recognize the conflict situation, must be aware of his or her own behaviors, must know the behaviors that are more effective in resolving the conflict, must want to make any necessary adjustments and must be capable of making those adjustments. This is a straightforward and uncomplicated process, but one necessitating management attention and scrutiny. Conflict is constructive when it is skillfully and intelligently managed. It is lethal when it is left to chance and haphazard behaviors.
To this end, the manager must recognize each subordinate’s style and separate the style from the content, deal with the message and its delivery as separate issues and, thus, reduce stress levels in the workplace. On the other hand, a subordinate must recognize the style that the boss is most responsive to, adjust his or her delivery to match that style and, thus, reduce the stress levels in the workplace.
The task is simple: Manage your own behavior so you can manage others (and keep your job).