Unresolved Conflict is Corrosive to Leadership
Conflict and problems do not typically occur in a vacuum. The roots of existing conflict reside within each organization and its individual members. These potential conflicts can undermine the manager’s ability to lead the group he or she directs and to make sound decisions that result in a positive outcome.
Managers are confronted with a dilemma when it comes to conflict resolution. If they are unable to find the most workable fit between the problems that result in conflict and the group they direct, their ability to lead their employees will be diminished.
Many of the factors that contribute to conflict and undermine a manager’s ability to lead can be treated independently. Conflict resolution is complex, and managers must identify contributing factors and modify their approach accordingly in order to arrive at the best solution. This takes time, attention to detail, and a careful assessment of the most critical elements and surrounding circumstances within each specific conflict situation.
Not all managers are in situations where their people possess sophisticated interpersonal skills and have an open mind toward the resolution of conflict. In fact, many manage and direct groups whose makeup creates additional conflict rather than proactive solutions to already existing situations. This places managers at a disadvantage and creates situations where their ability to lead is undermined.
Managers should be cognizant of the following workplace factors and circumstances that can lead to diminishing management capabilities.
Required Knowledge and Analytical Skills
Conflict takes many forms, from simple arguments between employees over minor issues to more sophisticated discussions and negotiations regarding issues of unit efficiency and productivity. Yet no matter the type of conflict, without required group knowledge and analytical skills to assess the problem and arrive at an objective assessment, problems will occur.
Groups will assume a predominantly smoothing and avoiding approach to maintain the status quo or a bargaining and forcing mode that is destructive to the cohesiveness of the group and the organization. Both modes consistently applied in all circumstances will erode the manager’s ability to lead and direct their organization.
If managers observe some of their people lacking the requisite skills and knowledge to effectively deal with conflict within the group, they must determine whether they have the capacity, and if so, take the necessary actions to ensure this aptitude is acquired. In this fashion, managers can transform potentially dangerous situations into ones that enhance their ability to lead.
Groups can have the required knowledge and analytical skills to effectively handle internal conflict, but be so overburdened with other tasks and responsibilities that their ability to work through it is still greatly diminished. The constraints of other higher priority assignments lessen both the desire and ability of members to manage their conflicts. As such clashes are viewed as an unnecessary interruption in more important work, they defer resolution to the manager.
High levels of stress generally characterize overloaded groups. High stress leads to a shallow and incomplete diagnosis—as well as a preference for solutions that are simple and inflexible rather than creative and effective.
Each individual member of a group has an established idea regarding the degree to which they will become involved in conflict resolution. While approaches vary according to participants’ makeup and personality styles, the predominant mode of conflict resolution is smoothing and avoiding, where peace and the status quo are maintained. In other situations, depending upon company norms, some groups feel very strongly about their right to be involved in a decision.
Research has shown that many of the tensions that develop between managers and employees stem from differing assumptions regarding the appropriate degree of group participation in certain types of decisions.
Managers must account for members’ individual personality styles and expectations since reactions and expectations will vary from group to group.
Conflict Resolution Norms
Group conflict resolution can be especially difficult when individual members have different and/or conflicting goals and needs. The most critical aspect of a group’s problem solving ability is its capacity to handle internal conflict.
Managers must ensure that the groups they direct have developed positive and healthy norms. Only when this is achieved is an appropriate forum created in which to work out problems and resolve conflict. Without these resolution norms, serious and heated group controversy will be divisive and result in ineffective and potentially harmful solutions.
Excerpt: Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)
Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
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