You’re probably aware that improving your productivity and success is dependent not only on your own efforts, but on your ability to work with and obtain top results from the efforts of others.
That automatically brings up the issues of conflict.
Conflict with others is a natural and inevitable result of being human. Since we’re not able to change this aspect of human nature, we are better served by learning to deal with the inevitable conflicts more effectively.
Here are some suggestions for anticipating and defusing some of the main sources of human conflict:
You go to the break room and find the coffee pot empty. You want to run off some copies but the machine is out of order or in the middle of a large copying job. You need help from a colleague but she’s booked solid for the rest of the week.
These and other shortages of resources can easily lead to personal conflicts that in turn can hamper productivity. Many of these conflicts are difficult to resolve, or not worth the time and effort to resolve them. But if any such conflicts lead to ongoing animosities or major bottlenecks that reduce long-term productivity, resolution becomes more important.
One way to resolve resource shortages is to prioritize needs, and make the resource readily available for the highest priority uses. Another is to establish a “sign-up sheet” for scheduling the use of scarce resources from copy machines to conference rooms, and everything in between.
Interpersonal animosities can sometimes be cooled down by negotiation, organized trade-offs, or team-building exercises that remind combatants they’re all trying to achieve the same goals.
Because the world is a complex place, it’s easy for people to find their priorities in conflict. This can result when people are striving for different goals, are working under different pressures, or holding different views of what’s more important or urgent than something else.
Because the world is a complex place, resolving these conflicts within a team (and/or with others not on the team) can be frustrating, time-consuming, and difficult. Start by:
- Minimizing or eliminating discrepancies between the goals of those in conflict.
- Better organizing and aligning the priorities and performance standards of those in conflict.
- Negotiating differences and facilitating any compromises that prove necessary.
Some of the roles we play are assigned by others; some we assign to ourselves. Just as missions can “creep” into new areas, so can the roles we feel we must play. When roles come into conflict, people not only “butt heads” but they feel resentment toward others who seem to be infringing on their rights and responsibilities.
One of the best ways to resolve role conflicts is to sit all parties down and discuss the situation, as follows:
- Begin with goals: what is each person trying to accomplish? Strategy:Try to align these goals as closely as possible.
- Move on to responsibilities: what is each person doing to reach those goals? What are they leaving to others? Strategy: Weave these together to eliminate gaps and unwanted overlap.
- Discuss strengths and weaknesses: how closely is each person’s effort aligned with the strengths they bring to the overall effort? Strategy: Try to utilize each other’s personal strengths, while covering and compensating for each other’s weaknesses.
- Finish by working toward agreement on adjustments: Negotiate, compromise, accommodate. Strategy: strive to re-allocate tasks and responsibilities to more effectively accomplish agreed-upon goals?
Certain people get along beautifully with certain others. Certain people rub each other the wrong way. These personal conflicts can result from differing personalities and working styles, contradictory values, past experiences, and many other factors.
The ability to help resolve personal conflicts is part science, part art form. Effective methods and techniques are way beyond the scope of this post. However, several principles are worth keeping in mind:
- Deal with the conflict immediately: it’s more likely to get worse than get better on its own.
- Ask for honesty and mutual respect: when people tell the truth about what they are feeling and why, conflicts become easier to resolve.
- Echo what each party says: this facilitates clarity of communication, which eliminates many misunderstandings and unfounded assumptions.
- Avoid assigning blame: despite what most people feel, personal conflict often results from the behavior of all parties, not just one.
- Focus on changing behavior: many personal conflicts can be more easily resolved simply by having the parties agree to change their future behaviors.
While you almost certainly cannot eliminate all conflict, you can try to identify at least some of the causes and work to reduce their impact on behavior, productivity, and success in your work and life.
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