Join Britt Andreatta for an in-depth discussion in this video Resolving conflict, part of Management Foundations (2013).
- How do you feel about conflict? It's interesting, but a lot of people think that conflict is a bad thing. Something to be avoided or deescalated as quickly as possible. But conflict is actually a natural byproduct of both group development and diversity. Much of conflict is healthy, and contributes to the growth of the individual and the organization. As a manager, you'll find that dealing with conflict is a normal part of your responsibilities. One model that's very helpful to know, is Tuckman's five stages of group development. Tuckman did research on groups, and his findings have stood the test of time.
This model is still taught in today's business schools. The first stage is called forming. This is the time when the members are introduced to the group, and they get acquainted. The second stage is called storming, because it's when conflict arises. The group is sorting out their differences as they try to organize their goals and ideas. The third stage is called norming, and this is when group cohesion gets established. Members find effective ways to share ideas and suggestions. Performing is the fourth stage, and the group achieves interdependence.
Members are self directed and productive. Groups can hang out in this fourth stage for quite a while, but eventually they move into the last stage, adjourning. This is when the project or group is wrapped up. Members finish up the task, organize reports and documents, and they celebrate their successes. As a manager, you need to expect conflict and be comfortable handling it. The goal is to know the difference between healthy conflict and toxic conflict that can do harm. You can identify toxic conflict by the following, people openly use insulting or demeaning words and actions, like name-calling, shaming and sneering, or people sabotage or undermine the efforts of another, usually behind their back.
Both of these methods are destructive. They not only kill trust, but they also undermine the efforts and goals of the group and organization. You should have a zero tolerance policy for these kinds of conflict behaviors. However, toxic conflict is actually rare, and only shows up when people cannot resolve their differences through more open and healthy means. To this end, you want to create an environment where healthy conflict can be embraced. Let's see how Adriana demonstrates the following strategies. First, she designs regular opportunities where people can have open discussions about issues.
Adriana encourages debate by asking for alternative ideas and solutions. She makes the devil's advocate a regular member of her meetings by intentionally exploring the other side of issues and she makes it clear that it's okay to disagree with her. Second, Adriana regularly role models how to have healthy debate, and what respectful disagreement looks like. We don't see many examples of this in our society and you'd be surprised how effective a little modeling can be. Third, when conflict does arise, Adriana gives it a little space and time to let her team handle it on their own.
You want to avoid stepping in too early. As long as you don't see anything toxic, you can afford to see what happens. And fourth, when people come to Adriana, she supports them in working it out. She empowers them to take responsibility for the situation. She has set the expectation that they need to first attempt to resolve the conflict. And if they come to her, they must share what steps they've already taken. If you need to step in, do so as a coach, using clarity and skill coaching to help the people involved move to resolution. Here's some great questions to ask.
Can you identify what the source of conflict is for you? What are your needs, concerns and goals in this situation? Are there any hidden agendas, vested interests or emotional attachments at play? How would you summarize the other person's perspective? Where are your places of agreement? And can you build on those? And identify some possible solutions that would close the gap between your differences. I strongly encourage you to watch the Lynda dot com course called Conflict Resolution Fundamentals, it will give you many more specific strategies to use.
Remember, the goal is not to prevent conflict, but embrace it as a way to help your group grow and thrive.
Lynda.com is a PMI Registered Education Provider. This course qualifies for professional development units (PDUs). To view the activity and PDU details for this course, click here.
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- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.