How to Manage Conflict

In order to manage any problem, you must first understand the causes, as working on the symptoms will only provide temporary relief. What then are the true causes of conflict in organizations, and more importantly, what can you do about them?

In conflict situations, people often grind their teeth in frustration and anger, so I use the acronym ‘GRRRRR’ to illustrate the key factors I tend to see in most conflict situations.

Conflict occurs when there is disagreement or differences in:

  • Goals
  • Roles
  • Resources
  • Rewards
  • Recognition
  • Relationships

Problem: Differences in goals, both organizational and personal, can often lead to disjointed efforts and lack of collaboration amongst team members. Each team, starting at the highest level in an organization, should have an overarching goal that each team member can articulate and commit to…this requires team time away from the place of work to wrestle this challenge to the ground.

Resolution: Set an overarching team goal that everyone can agree upon.

Problem: I am amazed at the number of times that confusion arises within teams as to who has responsibility for particular tasks. Lack of role clarification almost always leads to fuzziness and inevitably conflict between team members, and sometimes leads to outright avoidance of accountability.

Resolution: Pursue role clarity relentlessly.

Problem: Lack of prioritization around key initiatives can lead to arguments concerning resource allocation. Which manager hasn’t been bloodied at some point through round after round of pitched battles at budget time?

Resolution: Prioritize and allocate resources accordingly.

Problem: Much like resources, many people view rewards as a badge of merit. And the degree to which people compare what they get against what their colleagues get, as opposed to comparing it against some objective standard or goal, is frightening.

Resolution: Match rewards with results, and take the emphasis away from internal comparisons.

Problem: Like rewards, some people live for recognition, and if they see others getting what they believe is an unfair share, this can lead to friction within the team and between teams. Be unsparing in giving recognition daily. Keep in mind that while some folks love public praise, others shy away from it…so fit the recognition to the person.

Resolution: Catch ’em doing something right, provide positive feedback on a daily basis, and be sincere!

Problem: This is perhaps the most difficult of the factors to deal with, and the one that tends to get the least attention. Often referred to as ‘personality conflicts’, you’ll know it when you realise that none of the other factors above are at play. So you are left with ‘personalities’. The approach often taken by managers is to separate the warring parties, which can lead to some cooling down. But the conflict will arise again, sooner rather than later.

Resolution: One well researched tool for understanding behavioural differences based on personality, that we use, and which is quite effective, is DiSC – click here for a PowerPoint presentation on this tool.

Resolving conflict need not be a time consuming activity for you as a manager, if you spend suifficient time upfront gaining agreement on these ‘GRRRRR’ factors…a stitch in time really does save nine!