Conflict is something we all experience on a regular basis. Whether it is with the person that turned in front of you on the way to work, or it is the late meeting right before a holiday weekend that the CEO scheduled. If we deal with conflict so often, why aren’t we better at conflict management?


conflict_managementThe short answer is human nature. We are wired for bias. We all have biases; and the first step in an attempt to foster positive interaction with others is to recognize what our personal biases are and label them. What is the bias? How can we recognize it rearing its ugly head? How can we correct it? And if we are really good: how can we end up using it as an advantage?

Some common biases are confirmation bias (you do or don’t want something to be true), projection bias (expecting others to think/feel like you), availability heuristic (relying on what immediately comes to mind when evaluating something/someone) and the halo effect (overall impression of a thing or person colors everything about it/them). These are just a few of the many (many) biases that we are vulnerable to.

Consider the last time your feelings, thoughts or actions were colored by one of these biases. How did it affect you in accomplishing your goal(s)? If you work with a colleague on a regular basis and you have noticed a pattern that they are usually right, are you likely to side with them on the assumption that they are right even though you haven’t examined the facts of the situation? Admit it—you are guilty of that one.

Conflict is good!

Conflict can absolutely be good—and is really necessary for innovation and growth. But, not all conflict is good. There is constructive conflict, and then there is unresolved or destructive conflict. Unfortunately, we often succumb to the unresolved conflict that allows situations and emotions to spin out of control. Then the conflict becomes destructive leading to negativity, a lack of effectiveness and a loss of productivity. Or worse.

So, how can we make an effort to nurture constructive conflict? To begin with, conflict is unavoidable so don’t avoid it!  A lack of accountability is the basis for future problems. If you bring your idea to the table and your colleague disagrees, this does not have to damage your relationship. Instead, this should be viewed as a positive--- first, focus on the problem, not the person. The person hopefully disagrees with your idea respectfully and backs it up with reasoning. If that is the case, then this is an opportunity to learn from the other person’s experience and knowledge. Why do they disagree? What can you learn from them to improve upon your idea? This type of constructive conflict leads to better ideas, innovation and growth.  Don’t just avoid and try to move on—it will lead to bigger problems later on.

But, what if you find yourself on the other end of a situation where the other person is falling prey to their bias in dealing with the situation? How can you redirect your interaction from potentially negative to positive? First, if you can, try to address the concern. If you the last project you worked on with the person did not turn out well and they blame you, try to talk it out and dissuade them from holding onto their feelings and to instead be open-minded. Second, find some common ground or a common identity. People like people who they think are like them. Play up the fact that you both enjoy golf and suggest hitting the links for some brainstorming.

We are social animals (yes, even introverts), so make an attempt to build connections with your colleagues. Good relationships will overcome falling prey to biases, and gain goodwill for when a conflict does arise.


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