Did you realize we spend close to three hours of our work week dealing with conflict? According to a 2008 survey by CPP , publishers of the popular Myers-Briggs® assessment, conflict accounts for 2.8 hours of our work week. When you add up the hours and multiply it by the average hourly wage of $17.95, we’re talking about $360 Billion dollars in paid employee time. With that in mind, it’s important for managers to address conflict meaningfully. And that does not mean stifling it.
Conflict can be very healthy — as the proverb goes, “iron sharpens iron.” But before you roll up your sleeves to arm wrestle over the copier, you should realize that it can also be divisive and anti-productive. The key is to manage conflict by channeling it into productive discussion. One of the important points is to not make things personal. Difficult as it may be, it’s essential to put aside subjective points in favor of the objective. Instead of focusing on who’s wrong and who’s right in a situation, plot out the pros and cons of each side in a consultative manner. You want to focus the conflict away from the people involved and toward the problem itself. Try demonstrating curiosity about the unsatisfied needs (in conflict lingo, the “interests”) underlying your adversary’s position, and you might actually arrive at a creative solution that surprises you both.
Remember that conflict at work is valuable but painful. Some of the best ways to deal with this are getting in front of difficult situations by anticipating conflict and getting it out in the open sooner. Likewise, after a particularly difficult round of debate, it can be beneficial to repair any damage done by having a meeting designed to discuss the points of the argument after a decision has been made. This ensures that negative feelings don’t fester and that everyone’s point of view is valued, even if it didn’t influence the ultimate outcome.
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