Conflict Resolution

5 Ways to Practice Constructive Conflict Management

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The capacity to recognize, acknowledge, process, and address conflict is one of the most important aspects of a healthy workplace culture. The conditions in which we do our work matter! It can mean the difference between thriving or barely surviving. Indeed, that is why practicing constructive conflict management is identified as so vital in all of ACHIEVE’s work related to supporting a thriving workplace culture.

Out here in beautiful BC, there are many opportunities to get up on a paddle board – an activity I have greatly enjoyed in retirement. I have learned that beyond those factors that I control (e.g., balance, fitness, experience), the environment (e.g., water and weather conditions) plays a significant role in supporting good outcomes. Sometimes, applying the same skills feels effortless, as though I am being propelled forward by an invisible force. At other times, making progress on the board is a battle.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to support the creation of an environment where individuals bring the best of what they have to offer and are able to flourish without the unnecessary resistance that can come from unresolved conflict.

Building team capacity to resolve conflicts requires individual and collective effort.

Over the course of my 30-year career in public education, I have had the opportunity to participate, for better or worse, in the life of many “micro-communities”:

  • As a teacher and administrator in eight different schools, each with their own culture, beliefs, and practices
  • As a superintendent working with many different departments and teams in a central administrative context

In hindsight, I can readily identify times when giving my very best was easy and times when making any progress at all felt very much like paddling against the wind.

When I’m supporting leaders across a variety of sectors, I encourage reflection on these questions:

  • At what points in my career did I feel most supported to flourish and to contribute to the well-being and sustainable productivity of others?
  • When did I encounter resistance and feel like it was a struggle to move forward?
  • What factors that relate to workplace culture accounted for those different experiences?

Ultimately, building team capacity to resolve conflicts requires individual and collective effort. Having said that, there is much that highly effective leaders can do to facilitate awareness and skill development in this area.

 

Here are five ways you can cultivate constructive conflict management on your teams:

1. Embrace a healthy approach to inevitable conflict.

Diverse opinions, expressions, and approaches are a reflection of the fact that we arrive at the workplace as individuals with different life experiences, cultural and community reference points, and ideas. When these differences generate vigorous dialogue, a multidimensional approach to problem-solving, and a safe place to test out ideas, they strengthen processes and decision-making.

Effective leaders understand this and recognize that getting the best from their team means harnessing the energy that comes from different ways of thinking. They teach, expect, and model this healthy attitude and can openly reflect on ways in which ideas were made better through robust dialogue and idea sharing.

2. Proactively normalize healthy and constructive conflict management.

This can be done by talking about conflict’s inevitability, the ways in which it can improve outcomes, and how it can be done in a safe and respectful way. Take time in meetings to talk about how the team will process conflict so that it less frequently escalates to a place where it becomes problematic. Model an ability to affirm the ideas of others and to have your own mind challenged and changed through open idea-sharing and healthy exchanges. In other words, walk the talk!

Model an ability to affirm the ideas of others and to have your own mind challenged and changed..

3. Monitor the environment.

Do this with the awareness that some people can have good intentions, but their approach to sharing differences may be scary, intimidating, or overwhelming for others. Help them understand that there are helpful ways to share differing opinions, as well as methods that can cause harm or dampen healthy dialogue.

Also help others who are apprehensive about sharing their different opinions. Empathically recognize that this can feel like a big risk for some people based on past experience. Support and encourage them, affirm baby steps in the right direction, and make sure they feel safe.

4, Recognize your role in securing a safe workplace.

This means it is free from the toxic effects of harassment. Also ensure no one is expressing differences that are based in intolerance, hatred, bigotry, or any of the unacceptable “isms” that have become increasingly acceptable in, for example, social media exchanges.

Not all conflict is healthy and vigorous – open dialogue crosses a line when it becomes disrespectful, unwelcome, or injurious. Have good mechanisms and processes for surfacing, reporting, and responding to conflict that has become unhealthy. Remember that your silence in these matters is complicity. Be a safe person to talk to for those that experience or perceive harm.

5. Develop the skills, apply the frameworks, and use the tools.

Constructive conflict management will assist you in helping others to manage and resolve workplace conflict. There is much that can be learned and taught about this topic. Supporting a thriving workplace culture where everyone is able to like where they work is at the very core of what ACHIEVE is all about. We offer many workshops and resources to support leaders in creating workplaces and spaces where individuals and the collective can thrive. Learn for yourself and then teach those around you to successfully navigate conflict in the workplace.

How we take those potentially divisive differences and move forward to a better place matters.

Our differences are part of what make us free, creative, innovative, and, indeed, beautiful, both as individuals and when we come together as a group. How we process and express those differences matters. How we take those potentially divisive differences and move forward to a better place matters. There is much we can do as leaders to serve as an unhelpful irritant or source of friction when conflict arises. Effective leaders recognize that their helpful actions and practices when conflict becomes apparent can function as a welcome lubricant that supports sustainable productivity and both individual and collective wellness.


To learn about additional free FREE RESOURCES, visit our resources page.  Check out more great blog content by Mark on our website.

Author

Mark Schinkel

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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