Conflict has real value when people can have tough conversations, challenge colleagues’ thinking and behaviour or question ‘the way things are done around here’ constructively.
However, people spend 12 days at work, every year, just dealing with negative conflict (OPP 2008). This means that organisations that are good at handling workplace conflict have a significant edge over those that are not.
‘Being good at handling workplace conflict’ means, in a nutshell, having the culture, infrastructure and organisational competence to keep the financial and human costs of conflict to a minimum. We call this Conflict Competence.
If you introduce conflict management strategies which are cost-effective and employee-friendly, you will manage and retain your key talent, and ensure managers and leaders play their part in building strong employee engagement and productive teams.
A conflict-competent organisation will invest more in preventing and managing unhealthy conflict at work than it does in settling cases that have gone past the point of resolution.
What taking a strategic approach to conflict management means in practice
- Being clear about the business case for investing in conflict competence, and the financial and other returns that will result from doing so
- Establishing the organisational values and culture that will empower and encourage people to disclose and manage conflict constructively
- Creating the support infrastructure to facilitate speedy conflict resolution – professional mediators and investigators, trained harassment advisers and ethics officers, whistleblowing helplines, robust policies and procedures – whatever fits with your organisation’s culture and requirements
- Developing the skills and competencies to manage conflict as it arises and to ensure that those difficult conversations are concluded constructively