Elephant in the room. Stomping conflict before it gets out of control

Let's face it, every industry and company has its quirk's, challenges and inner conflicts. The shift in cultures, polarization and the inevitable change adds to the rise in blood pressure. Where there's human interaction, differences in guiding principles, a shift in leadership, and poor behavior its' inevitable there's going to be turmoil. Department heads don't see eye to eye because they are right and everyone else is wrong. Direct reports bud heads because they don't trust each other, someone won't let go of a past hurt, hence, internal company wounds run deep, staff are blinded by their competitive nature and the list goes on. Sound familiar?

Conversely, peer conflicts that arise from incompatible goals or from different views on how a task should be accomplished can usually be resolved. But peer conflicts that involve personal values, office politics and power, and emotional reactions are much more difficult to deal with. These seemingly intractable conflicts require careful attention if management wants to build effective relationships that will bolster their ability to achieve organizational goals.

Similar to our nation's political leaders the lack of accountability, trust and diplomacy sorely lack. It's a huge elephant in the room that no one will talk about or wants to address. What happens? Inner fighting and bad behavior continues, internal bashing and finger pointing persists. Why is this behavior allowed? Because no one wants to oppose the elephant in the room, fear of confrontation, not sure how to handle it or simply don't have the “know how” to deal with it.

Few systems are immune from the tension conflict generates. It can be risky and fatal to the company if matters persist and are not resolved quickly. Disruptive situations can create a hostile environment, break down trust, create silos, and affect morale. As a leader or manager it's up for you to recognize the cues and take action.

Putting ideas into action:

Deal with it, don't ignore it. Ignoring conflict, willing it away or hoping that it will resolve itself is not a remedy. You need to take action and get to the bottom of what's going on. If you're not comfortable addressing the issue bring in a third party to mediate.
ŸListen. Be willing to listen to all sides before making a determination. There are always three sides to a story. The opposing sides story and the facts.
ŸCreate an environment of trust. Let the individual know that the conversation is just between the two of you and it's not to be shared with others.
ŸDon't judge. If you are the one dealing with the issue go in with a mind set to get to the root of the problem. Don't be quick to set blame on someone and avoid taking sides!
Ask questions. It's essential to know how to frame questions in a way that is going to draw out the information needed so you can get the facts. Use open ended questions that begin with who, what, when. Stay away from closed ended questions that lead to Yes/No answers. Open ended questions lead to dialog and inspire conversation.
ŸAccountability. As a manager or leader it's not your job to come up with all of the solutions. Let the two in conflict come up with solutions to solve their battle. If they come up with their own way of resolving the issue they will be accountable for their actions.
ŸTimeline. Let them come with the action plan and timeline to resolve the issue.
Follow-up. Don't let too much time pass before circling around again. You will have a good sense if they are on their way to making amends or just bluffing their way through.
Patience. Be patient, smoothing out conflict is a process.

Settling conflict depends on the individuals and the situation. Depending on the circumstance it can take quite a while to resolve, it will heal over time or the conflicted staff members will never see eye to eye and this is where you as the leader need to consider the next steps.

Nonetheless, it's essential to ensure the crisis is resolved in a reasonable amount of time. Be clear of your expectations and if it's not resolved remind the team who is in conflict that other measures will be taken. However, there are those times where you may need to turn to an outside expert for help. An expert is someone who is well versed in dealing with conflict and crisis management and who brings a different perspective, is not caught up in the minutia, has no agenda, and has the experience to resolve issues before they escalate. The expert can advise on “how to” resolve challenges in the future so you and your team are better equipped to manage conflict before it gets out of control.

University of California, Berkeley Human Resources states, by managing conflicts skillfully, you can:

  • Gain cooperation from team members
  • Improve performance and productivity
  • Reduce stress and preserve integrity
  • Solve problems as quickly as possible
  • Improve relationships and teamwork
  • Enhance creativity
  • Increase staff morale

By taking corrective action, setting guiding principle for solving conflict you are sending a positive message to the company that bad behavior at any level is not tolerated. Conversely, by doing nothing you're sending a message that conflict and/or bad behavior in condoned.

For more information and to learn about conflict resolution, crisis management and communication workshops, including mediation contact me directly at:

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©  Laura Perez Ehrheart | February 4, 2016

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