How should management handle conflict?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The answer to this depends very much on the sort of conflict that is going on in the workplace.  People who study management generally say that there are good conflicts and bad conflicts.

While some people might think that conflict is always a bad thing, it can actually be very important in a workplace.  You want different people in your workplace to have different opinions and you want them to defend their ideas when they think those ideas are good.  You do not want people who will give in at the slightest sign of conflict because those people will not stick to their guns and they may give up on really good ideas just because someone else doesn’t like those ideas.

But not all conflict is good.  What management needs to do is to try to channel conflict away from being bad and towards being good.  Good conflict tends to be open.  It is not expressed behind people’s backs.  Management needs to uncover any hidden conflicts so they can become open ones.  Good conflicts are about ideas, not about personalities.  If employees seem to be taking their conflicts personally, management needs to help them focus on the issues and to take away the focus from things like the personal desire to be correct.  Finally, good conflict is expressed clearly.  Management needs to help people who are in conflict clearly articulate their points of view so that all sides can be clear about what their respective arguments are.

Thus, instead of trying to avoid or tamp down conflict, management needs to channel it so as to make it into “good” conflict.

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