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Conflict – Expect it, embrace it, don’t ignore it.

People, teams and organisations can be at odds with one another. It can be hard to agree or even to get along. When I attended a course on ‘How to deal with difficult people’, the opening sentence was “There is no such thing as a difficult person. There are only difficult relationships”. That shifted the responsibility for the conflict from ‘the other’ to ‘both parties’ as both parties are responsible for the success of the relationship.

Workplace collaboration is so important in the hustle and bustle of our workdays that it’s easy to let relationships take the back seat or be taken for granted. But fostering strong connections is a key to prevent negative conflict and resolve it. Self-focused mindsets on the contrary have organisational and individual costs. Respect and appreciation for other people counts more than opinions. People who do the opposite experience much more negative conflict.

When you ask a group of people whether they are in some sort of conflict situation, the vast majority confirm that they are. When you ask as a follow up how many addressed that conflict it appears that many do not deal with it. At the same time, some 25% of employees said that avoiding addressing the conflict led to sickness or absence from work, 10% said that the conflict had led to project failure and 33% said that as a result of the unaddressed conflict some left the organisation through firing or quitting. Three-quarters of all difficulties comes from strained relationships between employees, not from deficits in skills or motivation. What this is saying is that the conflict is perhaps not the issue, but the absence of addressing it is.

If we divide our response to conflict in do’s and don’ts, do not approach conflict with a mindset of ‘win at all cost’, do not pretend the conflict doesn’t exist, do not whine about it, do not keep score nor pull rank. Instead, address it, meet with those involved in the conflict, encourage the parties to seek to understand, outline the issue, define reality, deal with the reality and agree action, i.e. move on. Act because if you don’t, it gets worse.

If you work with people (and who doesn’t), there will be conflict. It will always be thus. So instead of aiming for a conflict free environment, help people and teams to see them through, deal with them and move on.

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