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Conflict: Unavoidable and Potentially Positive (Part 1 of 4)

Aug 17, 2007
When you're the one who must deal with conflict you know what to do?

If you're an executive, manager or human you resource professional, managing conflict is probably part of your job. So is recognizing when hidden conflict is the source of a problem.

The very word conflict has a negative impact on most people: you associate the word with war, destruction, hostility and pain. When you think of conflict as negative, even dangerous, you probably tend to avoid it whenever possible rather than learn how to deal with it effectively.

Conflict within an organization is not necessarily negative. In fact, it is a valuable potential source of energy for achieving organizational goals. Effective conflict intervention can help transform a conflict situation into an opportunity for change, growth and development of creative solutions to an organization's most difficult problems.

Conflict may be open or hidden. It is relatively easy to focus on visible conflict. Suppressed conflict may be more difficult to identify and may masquerade as a variety of symptoms such as low energy, high stress, diminishing productivity, high turnover, poor quality of decision making, defensive behavior, nit-picking and so on.

Whether the conflict is visible or hidden, if you are the one who must manage it you need to be aware of its source and its contribution to the identified problem, as well as having resources for helping your group deal effectively with the problem itself.

You need to be able to:
identify the actual problem;
elicit the client's goals in regard to the problem;
establish initial areas of agreement among the antagonists;
observe objectively and identify the continual processes of the group or organization;
be aware of potential pitfalls and the ability to avoid them;
help everyone generate options in which all participants will win.

You need to be able to bring hidden conflict to the surface.

Suppressed conflict within an organization can be a far greater problem than open conflict. When divergent ideas are not expressed, energy and information are lost to the group.

Any group or organization problem may be masking suppressed or unacknowledged conflict. Bringing that conflict into the open provides an opportunity for successful resolution.

If underlying conflict issues are ignored, they do not go away. Instead, they surface as a series of different problems: "If it's not one damn thing, it's another." As each problem arises, it is often regarded as something that can be solved by training.

When training is provided, however, the impact is minimal; in fact, the training often seems to have vanished shortly after its completion. When training fails, one should suspect suppressed or unidentified conflict within the organization.
About the Author
Communicate skillfully about sensitive subjects in business situations. Have the challenging conversations that lead to cooperation and success. http://www.DareToSayIt.com/blog
Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. is a Master Certified Coach and communication expert. Dr. Weiss has spent 35 years helping clients resolve conflict in business and personal relationships. Email feedback@laurieweiss.com
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