How to View Conflict Positively

how to view conflict

This post was originally published in the Newsletter for CIPD Management Toolclicks.  You can read the original article here.

How you as a manager view conflict will largely control your attitude and approach to dealing with it.

Most people don’t like conflict.  Maybe that’s because our physiology makes us ill-prepared for them.  The body’s response to conflict is a “fight or flight” reaction where the body releases adrenaline in preparation for fighting back or running away.  That was all helpful when we lived in caves and had to survive in a world of angry predators.  It’s not so helpful in the workplace where such responses will most likely result in you being the subject of a disciplinary or grievance procedure.

Putting your head in the sand and hoping that conflict will pass you by is not the most effective method for problem solving. Conflict rarely resolves itself – in fact, conflict normally increases if not dealt with properly. It is not uncommon to see what might have been a non-event develop into a massive problem if not resolved early on.

So if you are going to resolve conflict effectively, the first thing you need to do is view it differently.  You can’t choose the facts of a conflict but you can choose the frame you put around it – how you see the situation, what you assume about it and how you interpret it.

How to View Conflict

Here are three new thoughts on how to view conflict positively:

1.  Conflict isn’t necessarily negative.

When we fear conflict or see it as a negative experience, we harm our chances of dealing with it effectively.  The truth is that conflict is neither positive nor negative in and of itself.  Conflict is the interaction between two people who have different thoughts, attitudes, beliefs or opinions.  They believe that those differences will create a situation that doesn’t meet their interests or needs.  However, conflict can also bring out into the open alternative ways of thinking and behaving and alternatives for action that you may not have considered.

2.  Conflict isn’t necessarily a competition.   

Another view that needs changing is that conflict is always a battle between competing and incompatible self-interests or wishes.  Thinking of conflict in this way leads us to feel the other person is trying to block us getting what we want.  And both people become more stubborn as they aim for their own goals and ignore the needs or wishes that they both might share.  To resolve conflict effectively, you need to frame the situation as one that you can sort out collaboratively (win-win) instead of framing it as a contest of power or rights (win-lose).

3.  Conflict isn’t necessarily personal. 

Conflict is a business problem because conflict costs money in wasted time, bad decisions, lost employees, lowered job motivation, health costs and legal expenses.  Resolving the conflict doesn’t necessarily mean resolving the differences that caused the conflict.  And it’s not about getting people to like each other.  Instead it is about co-creating a solution to the business problem.  That means getting people to accept and respect their differences and finding a way to work co-operatively and productively.

If you always view conflict as negative and stressful, you’ll always want try and avoid it which is a bad idea because conflicts do not just go away.  By reflecting on how to view conflict more positively, you’ll find it easier to address it healthily and productively.

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