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Why conflict is good and four ways to manage it

By Rob Hayter on 14 May 2015

The thought of conflict in their team makes many people uncomfortable; it’s seen as a negative and something to steer clear of. But in reality, it is important to embrace conflict as one of the best ways of keeping your team productive. In this month’s blog post we look at why conflict can be good and four ways to manage it positively.


Advantages of conflict

  • Can stimulate discussion among staff and encourage them all to contribute
  • Can foster creativity as new solutions have to be found for problems
  • Can improve the quality of decision-making
  • Can create a more energetic and stimulating atmosphere

However, we all know that if left to go out of control, conflict can lead to hostility and an inability to work as a team. So how can you keep conflict positive? It’s important to understand the two different types of conflict:


Cognitive conflict: Task-orientated with a focus on making sure things are done in the most effective way. This kind of conflict encourages creativity and new ways of doing things and makes sure you don’t just do things a certain way because that’s how they have always been done.


Affective conflict: emotionally-orientated and centres around personal differences between people. This is the kind of conflict that destroys effective working relationships and inhibits employees from taking part in discussions.

 

How to manage conflict


1.   Preventative Measures

No one wants affective conflict in their team and it should be prevented where possible. This can be done with clear communication and a place for staff to express their thoughts, viewpoints.

An effective manager should then be able to facilitate this at team level, by defining what is acceptable behaviour, encouraging team building, collaboration and holding regular team meetings to help avoid conflict.


2.    Manage meetings

Meetings are an effective way to handle any conflict. Set ‘ground rules’ and ensure you keep a good balance of staff stating their own viewpoint and listening and questioning others. Make sure all relevant team members have the chance to contribute their opinion and that those who have not spoken are asked whether they agree.

Line managers handling conflict should have the relevant line management skills to handle these meetings, but consider inviting a devil’s advocate into important discussions, whose role it is to question everything. Don’t always ask the same person!

In these meetings, discuss what areas are most important to resolve and develop a plan to work on them.

3.    Cool off

Try a ‘cooling-off’ period for important decisions. Have an initial discussion and then let staff mull things over before deciding.  If the conflict is over an important decision, talk to someone more senior or a Trustee before coming to a decision.

Ensure that conflict isn’t left unresolved and steps are taken to address it. If left, the conflict can be come much harder to resolve. Follow up with staff involved to ensure everyone is happy.


4.    Think strategically

Cognitive conflict if managed properly can be constructive, allowing creativity and innovation. Successful organisations all have conflict and great ideas can arise from them; keep strategic aims and plans at the forefront of your minds to help overcome these conflicts.  If staff are all working with the same aims then any conflict should be minor and easy to resolve, without the use of mediators or lawyers.

 

Useful Links

ACAS – Advisory booklet – Managing conflict at work
MindTools – Conflict Resolution