Workplace productivity, employee engagement, and job satisfaction probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think about conflict. Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, conflict has been widely recognized as the cause of many struggles, from stress and inefficiency to poor decision-making and employee turnover. Just look these eye-opening statistics:
- Almost 85% of employees experience conflict at work.
- Managers spend as much as 40% of their time dealing with conflict.
- Employees exhaust approximately 3 hours each week in conflict situations.
Yikes! And to complicate things further, wrap your head around this: For all the damage inflicted by excessive conflict, the absence of conflict can breed a culture of mistrust and complacency:
- According to the management team at Intel, “The only thing worse than too much conflict is no conflict at all.”
- Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch coined the term “superficial congeniality,” in which everything was “pleasant on the surface, with distrust and savagery roiling beneath.”
Clearly, conflict has been given a bum rap. But conflict itself is not the problem. In fact, it can be the secret to a competitive advantage when it’s harnessed and well-managed. And that starts with education. Rather than attempting to eliminate conflict, equip people with awareness, knowledge, and an effective strategy. That is, awareness of how individuals typically react in conflict situations, knowledge of the consequences that result from those reactions, and finally, the ability to select the most effective strategy for responding to conflict in a productive manner.
Theories of conflict have shifted and evolved since Classical Greece. Today, the grid first introduced by psychologists Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in 1964 continues to be the predominant conflict model. A matrix that combines an individual’s degree of concern for work output with his or her degree of concern for people generates five different conflict strategies: Integrating, Compromising, Competing, Smoothing, and Avoiding.
As you may have guessed, Integrating is the ideal strategy for successfully managing conflict on a consistent basis. But even though its problem-solving focus yields positive results, there are times when it’s not possible to invest the energy and collaboration it requires. That’s why it’s important to understand the situation, evaluate the options, and then choose the best-suited conflict strategy.
You don’t have to cringe when you’re in the midst of conflict. With some skill and know-how, you—and your organization—can reap the benefits of conflict done right!