Volume 144, July 2015: Conflict and Managing Differences

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, 2015 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Resolving conflict is rarely about who is right. It is about acknowledgement and appreciation of differences.” – Thomas E. Crum

Conflict occurs when people perceive that, as a consequence of disagreement, there is a threat to their needs, interests or concerns. Unaddressed, it usually snowballs. And conflict costs organizations big dollars in lost productivity, illness, loss of employees, avoidance, sabotage, wasted time, workarounds and restructuring, decreased decision quality, and exhaustion.

In my teaching and writing, I have tried to reframe conflict as simply differences:

  • Differences challenge and disrupt the status quo, producing a new way of thinking.
  • Conflict is normal and should not be extinguished, but managed to a healthy outcome.
  • Unhealthy conflict is that which persists to the point of damaging relationships.
  • Most differences are rooted in misunderstanding, not disagreement.
  • There are many styles for dealing with conflict that are appropriate for different situations. In important matters, we seek the Win-Win outcome.

Conflict is not impolite, and it is an important part of business. To disagree without being disagreeable, to focus on the issue, not the people, is a good practice. 

One of my psychology professors, Jules Seeman, implanted this idea in me: “The superior position is one that encompasses all positions.” This guided me in developing a model of mediating conflict, presented here. Mediation is a process that systematically isolates disputed issues in order to develop alternatives and attempt to reach a consensual settlement that will accommodate all needs. It is not negotiation, arbitration or psychotherapy.

First, we bring all parties to the conflict together in one place (a must). We then present positions with supporting data, rationale, and interests. Everyone repeats what they’ve just heard before making their point. Ground rules are: be respectful, use I statements, don’t interrupt, and watch the tone, body language, and words you choose. The objective is not to win, but to coax the best ideas to the surface. After speaking and listening, we work towards a “Both-And,” not an “Either-Or” outcome. This dove-tails nicely with a concept used in community-building – a “Bridging Statement.” How can we work toward a solution that optimizes the interests of all parties?

Practice Point

Build Bridges. Frame your differences as “How can we accomplish (their aim) and at the same time, accomplish (mine and others)?” After communication is complete – everyone’s What and Why – move to brainstorming ideas that will optimize the interests behind all positions. Narrow down the options by multi-voting, then form an agreement that all sign. It is important to move forward, even if it’s only to gather more data on the topic, to ask for an authority to render a judgment, or to conduct an experiment. Try on different solutions to reach an outcome that everyone involved can live with.


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