Conflict: Friend or foe for business?

Kelly Murphy

Conflict isn’t all bad, especially when it comes to clearing the air and promoting innovation. If properly handled, conflict can lead to increased trust in working relationships and improved processes.

If businesses mishandle conflict, though, it could hurt the workplace. Poor communication hinders productivity and morale and fosters distrust. If managers lack training in how to manage and resolve conflicts, differences can escalate to the point they can’t be overcome unless someone leaves. Moreover, managers and employees can differ over how conflicts should be handled and someone is treated. Such situations can translate into employee and customer dissatisfaction.

How can businesses combat the foe in conflict and turn it into a friend? When managers and employees learn conflict management techniques, they also learn to work together and respect the diverse perceptions found within a team.

According to the International Journal of Business and Administrative Studies, some of the techniques for conflict resolution include:

Integrating — blending ideas based on the concern for one’s needs and the needs of others.

Obliging — Expressing more concern for the needs of others than one’s needs.

Compromising — give and take based on the concerns for one’s needs and those of others.

Dominating — a high concentration on one’s needs and very little on the needs of others.

Avoiding — stepping away regardless of one’s needs or the needs of others.

We’ve all experienced situations in which we could have benefited from one or more of those techniques. Working within a team, integrating different points of views or compromising can help to achieve goals. However, these approaches often require significant amounts of time and resources. Sometimes, businesses must react quickly. In those circumstances, obliging or dominating could work well, but also create other subsequent problems. When would a situation best be served by avoidance?  If a conflict rises to the level harm could come to a person or increased agitation prevents rational thinking, stepping away might allow those involved an opportunity to calm down and perceive the situation differently.

Individuals base their insights on past experiences and education. How they handle their differences affects their daily lives and determines if business meet objectives or not. It makes sense for a business to invest in conflict management and resolution for all staff, not just managers.

How or where does conflict begin?  According to Allan Simpao, author of “Conflict Management in the Healthcare Workplace,” conflict arises from very specific elements: perceived action (incompatibility with one’s needs), interdependence between parties and a passionate or heated interaction between parties.

When this occurs, the confrontation could manifest itself in different ways. For instance, multiple employees could express rude or undermining comments in a passive-aggressive manner, causing a conflict to intensify. This type of behavior might be difficult to quantify or prove, but could affect the individuals and those around them. This type of conflict could prove more harmful than other types. Conflict can take a negative turn because of a reaction to anger, fear, resentment or sadness as well as a lack of emotional intelligence or training on how to cope with those reactions.

A well-trained staff recognizes conflicts before they escalate. The solution is to educate your work force on conflict management and resolution techniques — how to recognize different situations and which technique to use. Businesses that commit to this strategy foster a culture that promotes employee engagement as well as helps with efforts to recruit and retain top talent.

Conflict can be our worst enemy or the force that brings diverse individuals together. Knowing how to handle each situation increases the chance of finding a resolution. Conflict management can result in better processes, more innovation and the realization of business objectives.