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As a leader of a team – any kind of team – you will often be called upon to negotiate and to manage situations which involve conflict. This is natural and to be expected. Diverse teams will inevitably have personality clashes, and challenging work will often lead to differences in opinion or heated situations. In fact, dealing with ‘difficult’ people (who are usually just people with different standpoints or personality types to our own!) is par for the course in the workforce.

However, although it’s a common situation, new managers often find that they struggle with conflict and the best ways to deal with it. In fact, research recently carried out by Festco (People & Productivity 2014, delivered in partnership with Works Management), reveals that just over a third of managers (34%) suffered from anxiety and stress because of conflict in relation to someone they were managing.

So what can we do to build a better relationship with conflict? Here are some tips for success:

1. Don’t be afraid of conflict
If your team has no conflict it might seem a dream situation – but the chances are your team isn’t as high performing or as creative as it could be. Why? Because truly diverse teams bring together varied skillsets, experiences and perspectives. When these combine, there are inevitably clashes of some degree as differences are debated and challenged. This can be a good thing because it tends to stimulate innovation and problem-solving.

As a manager, your task is to manage this kind of ‘productive’ and healthy conflict in the right way, ensuring that it remains focused on the work outcome and doesn’t degrade into pointless argument or personal attack. When channelled effectively and supported in the right way, conflict can be a wonderful tool for challenging stagnant thinking and for coming up with fresh ideas.

In fact, one of the biggest arguments against homogenous teams is that they can lead to Groupthink; a phenomenon where people become reluctant to challenge the status quo in any way, and where even the craziest existing ideas can persist without any kind of change!

2. Don’t shy away from conflict
Particularly where a manager is introverted or more junior, they may feel tempted to shy away from conflict. However, it’s essential to nip issues in the bud so that they don’t escalate and become bigger than the original sticking point. Recognise that an issue exists and help your team to debate it objectively and productively. As a manager, you must find the balance between avoiding the problem completely in the hope that it will go away, and making excessive attempts to quash all kinds of conflict.

Ask – are you being too critical or micro-managing every situation that arises? If so, you will cause frustration in your team and potentially push away strong, forward-thinking talent. Instead, monitor the situation, take the individuals to one side if possible, apply conflict resolution techniques where required – but first allow your team members the space that they need to reach their own resolutions as professionals, and as adults.

3. Train!
Business owners – your managers MUST be trained effectively in negotiation and conflict resolution techniques. Your working culture must also support healthy processes for resolving problems and differences in a constructive way.
Managers – don’t be afraid to keep learning and adjusting your approaches according to the situation and the individuals. Informal coaching or mentoring from more experienced peers can be a valuable way to learn fresh skills on the job and to build your confidence in managing even the trickiest and the most potentially explosive forms of conflict.

Find out more
To learn more about conflict management – and techniques for harnessing and leveraging healthy conflict in the workplace – please contact me today.

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