U.S. Founding Father Thomas Paine once said, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
But for many leaders and CEOs, this may not be the case. When it comes to dealing with the daily operations of a company, facilitating conflict management is often the last thing on a leader’s mind — and yet it’s an inevitable and incredibly important part of the job.
Leaders must address these issues because in-office conflict can have myriad negative effects on a company as a whole, including lowered productivity, a decrease in collaboration, and stifled creativity.
The true cost of conflict
When leaders avoid conflict between employees and hope that the issues will resolve themselves, the costs can be tangible. According to a CPP Study, 25 percent of employees said that avoiding conflict led to sickness or absence from work, while nearly 10 percent reported that a workplace conflict led to project failure. Even more alarming was the fact that more than one-third said conflict resulted in someone leaving the company, either through firing or quitting.
Especially for a smaller business, these side effects of conflict can mean substantial money lost. Good conflict resolution, on the other hand, has the opposite effect and leads to high employee retention, increased productivity, and a lower stress level for everyone involved.
Here are seven keys to conflict resolution.
1. Identify the root of the problem
While conflict is a normal occurrence at any office, most people aren’t inherently blessed with the ability to identify and mitigate a problem. The first step to resolving conflict is learning to identify the root of the problem.
Just about every workplace conflict stems from two common starting points: poor communication and the inability to control one’s emotions. Poor communication is an easy pitfall. Misinformation, no information, or poor information can all lead two benign parties into a state of confusion and conflict.
The inability to control one’s emotions is more difficult to anticipate. But it can easily be rectified by taking a few steps, such as encouraging employees to step away and calm down or facilitating a conversation to find out what led to the emotional response.
2. Never assume
When clients, partners or coworkers relay new information to an employee, organizational knowledge can easily fall through the cracks. People may inadvertently leave out key information because they assume the person already understood them or shared their perspective.
It’s important to create a clear chain of command within your company so that key information doesn’t get lost along the line. And whether you’re relaying new information to a team member or navigating conflict, always approach the conversation with a holistic view on the issue at hand.
3. Be the best communicator
As the leader of a company, you need to set the example for clear, concise communication.
This goes beyond making your decisions understood — you need to set the behavioral guidelines for everyone at the company. People should know where they stand and what acceptable behavior looks like. You want to make sure everyone has a good understanding of their responsibilities, their job title and the chain of command.
4. Anticipate conflict
The number one mistake CEOs and leaders make when dealing with conflict is to avoid it.
An unaddressed issue will fester and grow, eventually shifting into feelings of resentment between quarreling parties. Even if everyone is behaving professionally on the exterior, the discontent will manifest through productivity.
Instead of ignoring conflict, try being proactive and seeking out areas of potential friction. This will help mitigate issues more quietly than letting them build up and explode.
5. Be strategic
While avoiding a conflict is usually the wrong tactic, sometimes it’s appropriate for a leader to purposefully not engage in a petty conflict, or one that’s not affecting the work environment.
It’s essential to pick and choose battles. If you’re unsure about the nature of a certain issue, the involved parties will generally open up communication with you if it’s a genuine problem.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Most CEOs agree that conflict management is difficult. When asked which is the biggest area for their own personal development, nearly 43 percent of CEOs rated conflict management skills the highest on the “2013 Executive Coaching Survey” from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Training with an executive coach can help hone a leader’s skills and lead to a happier, more tranquil company.
Every conflict a leader can resolve is a chance for a company to grow. While disarming conflict is largely up to the leader, the entire organization can benefit from listening to different sides of an argument with an open mind. It’s a learning opportunity and may change how a company is run for the better.
Conflict management will help boost a leader from good to great. It may come slowly, usually with practice and good training, but it’s worth it.
A leader with effective conflict resolution skills can contribute to a safe and healthy workplace while maintaining a high level of productivity.