Conflict Management Strategies

Whilst this topic isn’t the most happiest or thrilling, I am going to share points and some truths on this subject, that I hope will help anyone learn some techniques and gain further insight into dealing with conflict.

So, Conflict occurs! So much so, that according to a report commissioned by Safe Work Australia, the cost of workplace conflict is over 8 billion dollars annually.

From this alone, you can guess that conflict is a major cause of staff turnover and costs the organisation a lot of money, productivity and staff morale.

I am sure many people here can think of a story or two when they have had to deal with it, and what they needed to pull on within to get through it.

Generally, conflict occurs due to people having different needs and goals and when those people have differing levels of power and privilege (some may and some at least believe they do)!

Personality are another common cause of conflict, sometimes there is no chemistry, or you haven’t figured out an effective way to click with somebody.

Competing over scarce resources, when you are under the pump and don’t have the resources to finish the job can create all sorts of conflict within the team too.

One that resonates with me is values, the challenge here is that values are core, adapting with styles is one thing, but dealing with conflicting values is another. That is why a particular business, group, or culture may not be a good fit for you. It is also why ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and why opposites attract, but similarities bind’. As Executive Assistants, we get this more than anyone!

It can be an unfortunate challenge to be in a conflict, but if handled effectively, can be turned on its head and can actually be beneficial in learning some key skills and new behaviours such as –

  • Hearing the various perspectives provided can actually assist rather than hinder;
  • Greater understanding of a particular process, product, service or outcome, particularly if there is a varied skillset among the team;
  • Greater buy-in to decisions as team members have been able to have their say;
  • Enhancing your personal capacity to express empathy, listening, influencing and negotiating.

Respecting a different way of doing something or just a ‘difference’ per-se can actually be beneficial to a great understanding, rather than imposing your influence, hierarchy or rank, respecting the unique difference in people and learn to see things from differing points of views is what you need to tap into.

The Transactional Model Of Communication diagram shown here details how the various channels of communication are sent and received and depending on what channel is chosen, particularly, as we now have so many forms of channels (telephone, text messages, emails, and face to face) there is bound to be an area for misunderstanding or incorrect perception of tone that can conjure all kinds of conflict and pretty quickly too.

Honest and clear communication play an important role in the resolution process, defining the problem and determining the underlying need is a good start to turning it on its head quickly, finding common areas of agreement, even if tiny, all agreeing on the various actions that will be taken, and finally following a procedure that ultimately finds a solution.

Conflict can yield an emotional state of mind that makes things more difficult to manage, confronting the issue right away is key before allowing it to fester. Quite often perception is not always reality and often times we don’t confront the most obvious situation before us, because we let other points of view distort what we believe to be true. {According to Sally Dooley Leadership}

Conflict resolution is about seeing opportunities that others don’t see, when dealing with conflict through a lens of opportunity, conflict can be a healthy enabler of growth and professional growth for all of the people involved.

We all know if you’ve been there, these next five points are integral to capping what could be an incredibly uncomfortable situation –

Keep things cool with a private meeting;
It’s never a good look to see two colleagues disputing and displaying these type of emotions in the workplace. Even though you don’t think it, these are times when your fellow peers will judge you, and will consider how you reacted to be a major part of your leadership abilities.

Put things into perspective;
How many times do we actually dissect a situation and realise it isn’t nearly as bad as we had first thought or heard.

Remind yourself that working together is part of your job;
A bit like your family, you can’t choose your work colleagues either!

Know when to stay out of it;
Yes, we all want to protect our fellow colleagues and in particular our EAs, however, by keeping the peace and showing a level of professionalism you can still show your support without putting fuel on the fire.

Depersonalise it!
I have been through conflict and I can honestly tell you I pulled on every strength in my body to get through it.

I can also tell you, looking back, it was the very thing that helped me grow, and as they say putting yourself out of your comfort zone is where growth occurs – You don’t think it at the time, I mean who does, when you are being stretched, and every part of your brain is telling you to do the opposite,  as a result, every emotion is coming to the forefront, wanting you to fight, trying to drag what you can, people, situations, and yourself down with them. Forming your own army with those that you know you can trust and that will have your back, isn’t always going to turn out! Yes, I’ve been watching far too much Game of Thrones of late!

Businesswoman writing value concept. Office background.

So, from conflict we’re now discovering what leadership skills you have or you’re developing, and that is kind of fun really! You’ll be surprised by what you can achieve and by noting or reflecting on what you did to get through, is where the magic begins –

  • Resilience – for me – was what got me through, I had to stay under the radar, every time this person approached me, I had to smile, be polite, and acknowledge her.  I kept thinking what would the Dalai Lama do? In fact every time this woman approached me in the end, I started to imagine her as the Dalai Lama, in robe and all!
  • This business about taking the ‘Higher Ground‘ actually worked, at first it was insanely difficult to keep my mouth shut, I won’t kid you, but once I saw it as the challenge it was, I actually welcomed it, and so with each dig and with each twist I stepped up, and-up-and-up!

At the time, I was working in an insanely busy EA role during a period of time when all eyes were on our organisation to deliver, and working for the CEO also meant there was no way I wanted to share any of this with him, as he had, let’s just say bigger fish to fry!

As the days and weeks rolled by and being greatly consumed by both my new friend the Dalai Lama and supporting my CEO whom was hosting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in my real job, I realised that something had kicked in, I wasn’t nearly as insulted as I once was, I heard the same arguments crop up and it simply didn’t bother me any longer.

It was clear that ‘time’ and the ‘higher ground’ took affect and the issues had dissipated almost entirely!

She was never going to be my best friend, and she did eventually leave the organisation, but I didn’t let any of it get to me and the funny thing was when I eventually did leave for the organisation to run my own business, the CEO said, ‘You know that situation you had on the floor about a year back, ‘You handled that exceptionally well and I thank you for that’!

Presented at the IPAA Executive Assistant Series – Masterclass (SHoTs) Training – 7 June 2017

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