Conflict is inevitable inside of any company. Opposing or incompatible ideas are going to be proposed for business decisions. Although conflict typically has a negative connotation, it doesn’t have to be that way. Conflict should be viewed as a valuable resource, a precursor to a creative solution that strengthens the company, rather than an event that stifles innovation and kills productivity.
Conflict as an Asset
When conflict arises, businesses have the opportunity to improve relationships between team members, improve the decision-making and conflict resolution processes, and produce a joint solution that is often more optimal and efficient than stand-alone proposals.
By understanding disagreements (and not just sticking to your “side”) you learn about the different perspectives various employees hold, as well as divergent areas your peers excel in. Educating yourself about such strategies ultimately moves a company forward.
Conflicts that are not adequately identified and managed can destroy company value, slow production, halt business processes, and ruin relationships between team members. That is why it is important to effectively identify the point where the conflict exists and manage it in a constructive way that leads to a mutually agreed upon decision. One of the best ways to do this is to define a conflict resolution process and hold conversations before conflicts arise.
Defining a Conflict Resolution process
Your business is going to want to have continuity when it comes to the conflict resolution process. It is best to have a pre-defined, transparent problem-solving process. That way, when a similar issue arises in the future, employees will know how a decision was made, what the tradeoffs were, the flexibility needed in the decision-making process, and how to go about solving problems in the future.
That said, there are two primary conflict resolutions methods used by businesses:
- addressing the conflict at the point of origin, and
- passing the conflict up to the management chain for those in higher positions to decide on.
Although these methods differ slightly, both processes incorporate the same elements and produce similar outcomes. Only the way a result is reached differs.
It is best if the conflict can be resolved at the point closest to where it began. Although conflict can be passed up the management chain and left for those in a higher position to provide a resolution, the farther the conflict is passed up the chain, the more disconnected the person creating the resolution is.
Individuals who hold various positions within a company have different priorities and incentives, some of which may not align with those at the origin of the conflict. As a result, the person receiving the conflict up the chain may not always provide an optimal resolution. In addition, when conflict is passed up the management chain instead of settled at the point of origin, employees must wait for a supervisor to pass the resolution back down the chain. By the time a decision reaches the original parties, resentment is likely to have built because they were removed from the process.
The goal of conflict resolution should be to get individuals to resolve their own issues via a process that improves relationships among parties and adds value to the company. The closer conflict is solved to the point of origin, the faster a solution can be provided. As a result, employees should be able to more effectively handle any future disputes.
Elements and Outcome of Conflict Resolution
Regardless of whether the conflict is solved at its origin or passed up the management chain, constructive conflict resolution processes are typically composed of similar elements and produce similar outcomes.
When a conflict is being resolved, parties addressing the conflict should draw on different perspectives from many employees; this should lead to the development of a more innovative and efficient product. When a conflict is resolved there should be a transparent process everyone has access to and is capable of understanding and implementing. A clear-cut conflict resolution process leads to faster internal decision making, fewer future disputes, and a joint solution that is typically more optimal than stand-alone proposals.
Conflict should be embraced instead of ignored or worked around. It can strengthen bonds within a business and pave the way for future successes. However, it is important to create a resolution process before the company is faced with a conflict. Otherwise, if the conflict is significant enough, it can destroy company value, employee relationships, and maybe even lead to systemic failure.