Conflict Resolution: Why Is It Important?

September 15, 2012 in , ,

Conflict is defined as any situation in which incompatible goals, attitudes, emotions, or behaviors lead to a disagreement or opposition between two or more individuals, such as employees. That’s not to say conflict can’t be a healthy measure of a company, because there are certainly instances where conflict is productive. Rather, the type of conflict that can damage personal or professional relationships can just as easily send a business into a nosedive.

Experts have defined the two types of conflict as functional and dysfunctional. Functional conflict results in positive benefits to individuals, a group, or the organization. This type of good conflict can raise awareness of important issues so that they can be addressed. Good conflict carries the potential to be a win-win for your business.

Dysfunctional conflict, on the other hand, can damage group cohesion, promote hostilities among those involved, and create an overall negative environment for employees.

Getting at the Root of the Issue
Where does conflict come from? Consider the possibilities:

  • Insufficient information
  • Misunderstanding
  • Differences in values, beliefs, perceptions, or opinions
  • Personality clashes
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Lack of trust
  • Frustration or irritability
  • Credibility issues
  • Authority issues
  • Competition for limited resources

The impact of conflict, whether functional or dysfunctional, can be far-reaching. Functional conflict likely creates positive consequences. It seeks a mutually acceptable solution, creating trust among employees and within your place of business as a whole. It increases the involvement of those who view the subject of the conflict as important and stimulates new ideas and suggestions for your business. Employees can grow and learn from each experience with functional conflicts. You’ll quickly see employees express their thoughts or opinions in a stress-free manner, critical for open and honest communication and a staple for any successful business.

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Potential Positive Consequences of Functional Conflict

  • Leads to new ideas
  • Stimulates creativity
  • Motivates change
  • Promotes organizational vitality
  • Helps individuals and groups establish identities
  • Serves as a safety valve to indicate problems
  • Leads to better communication and understanding of both sides

Dysfunctional conflict can result in negative outcomes. Often, an employee, the team, or the entire business can end up on the losing end of the outcome. Reduced morale, self-esteem, and motivation can lead to name calling, damaged reputations, and diverted attention from important business responsibilities. This type of conflict often wedges barriers between individuals or groups, hindering customer service and creating negative communication, and limiting business success.

Possible Negative Consequences of Dysfunctional Conflict

  • Diverts energy from work
  • Lowers morale
  • Threatens psychological well-being
  • Wastes resources
  • Creates a negative climate
  • Breaks down group cohesion
  • Can increase hostility and aggressive behaviors

Resolving dysfunctional conflict requires attention to detail to move toward a resolution. One popular technique to resolve dysfunctional conflict adheres to six guidelines:

  1. Prepare
    You must establish a time and place to discuss and resolve the conflict. Be sure to choose a neutral location that’s free from distractions. Include all relevant personnel in the meeting and provide involved parties the time to prepare for the meeting.
  2. Listen and Acknowledge Feelings
    Every side usually has something useful to say. Employees often need to feel they have been heard and understood before they have the capability to listen. Understand where they are coming from before you voice your opinion or thoughts.
  3. Find Common Ground
    Find areas that all parties can agree on, and move toward those areas. Make suggestions of compromises that both sides can make. Bring up points on how resolving the situation can benefit all involved. Create that win-win situation usually found in functional conflict.
  4. Facilitate Communication
    Make sure all parties have equal time to talk and express their views. You may need to act as a referee. Make sure everyone understands what is being said. You may want to ask questions to clarify unclear points.
  5. Decrease Defensiveness
    Use a relaxed, confident tone when speaking to a group that is in conflict. When trying to resolve conflict among your employees, you should not show them how you feel about the subject. Lay the groundwork on what needs to be decided and let them arrive at a conclusion.
  6. Reduce Stress
    When both sides feel strongly about an issue it can cause tension. Emotions can run high and some employees may not be able to think clearly. You can reduce tension by giving people time to cool down, injecting humor, or turning to less sensitive issues.

Conflict is bound to happen in the workplace. The keys to making conflict work in your favor are allowing healthy conflict to play out and resolving negative conflicts without damaging your employees or your organization. Do your business a favor—be aware when conflict arises and be ready to address it when the situation requires action.

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