Understanding the Need for Conflict

Published on 2011-03-23

Source: Ed Yourdon @ flick
HARMONY, I HAVE FOUND, IS A DANGEROUS WORD. Having delivered several trainings on the topic of ‘Conflict Management‘, I noticed that far too many managers believe that conflict is inherently negative, and therefore bad for business. These managers usually fall into one of two categories: those managers that avoid conflict all together, because they are afraid of confrontation, and those managers who believe that managing well means solving everyone’s problems no matter how big or small.
In order to be a better manager the first thing that we need to understand is that conflict is not negative. It only becomes negative when poorly managed.  The two examples mentioned above, usually end up with either larger conflict than they started with, or teams that are incapable of dealing with conflict themselves, and instead rely on a parental figure (the manager) to resolve the issue for them.
Both of these are extreme cases of two of the common ways to manage conflict.  As a quick reminder all five are:

  • Avoidance
  • Accommodation
  • Compromise
  • Competition
  • Collaboration or true win-win

Each of these approaches can be an effective way to manage a conflict if used correctly.
To give you an example, during our budget review, if I had no one competing against other departments for more money, I would become seriously concerned about whether or not they truly saw value in what their team, and department contributed to the organization.  Similarly, if I were to accommodate everyone, the company’s coiffures would quickly be drained and none of our managers would have an appreciation for a finite resource.
Understanding how and when to use these only comes from trial and error, and remembering that each case should be treated uniquely. Embrace conflict, and more importantly I urge you to begin to better understand how it should be managed.