With the New Year, there often comes an opportunity to approach processes in a new and fresh way, especially within organisations. However this change and the excessive workload that stems from this change, can result in an increased number of ‘conflict bushfires’.

The VM Group is regularly invited into organisations where these conflict bushfires are raging or are just about to spark.  Consequently, we thought we would share with you some of the basic insights and strategies an organisation can put in place in order to transform their conflict into cooperation.

As we all know, prevention is always better than a cure and we encourage developing preventative strategies rather than reactive ones, so that organizations can divert resources away from firefighting and focus their time and energy on more important business goals.

Our main message is that, while conflict is a fact of life, it need not be a way of life. Conflict is inevitable in the context of diversity.  We all have our own goals, values, approaches, and personalities which can often be completely at odds with our colleague’s values, approaches, personalities or even perceptions of ‘the facts’.  It is these differences that inevitably lead to conflict. Subsequently we need to know how to deal with conflict and use it constructively.

Conflict tends to follow a downward spiral through five stages:

Stage 1 Accusations and Threats

Stage 2 Expansion

Stage 3 Generalisation to the entire relationship

Stage 4 Plan and plot

Stage 5 Spread

During the downward spiral of conflict, psychological changes happen. We start to use selective perception—we see only the `bad’ in the other person and are blind to the ‘good’.  We generate a self-fulfilling prophecy; we are usually not treating the other person very well (e.g. we might be approaching them with negative body language), the other person rapidly detects this and responds to us in a negative way, thereby fulfilling our negative impression of them. As this goes on, we gradually cease to communicate, trust is broken and permanent damage is done.

There are five styles when dealing with conflict:

  • To Overpower,
  • To Accommodate,
  • To Ignore,
  • To Compromise
  • To Collaborate

All have their time and place, but the use of the wrong style in a situation will only worsen the conflict.  By far the most effective style for issue resolution and moving on, is collaboration. Within collaboration we find mutually acceptable solutions to deal with the conflict-creating situation. To be effective, this method has four critical preconditions.

  • Each person must have a true concern for mutual gain
  • There must be firmness about their respective interests but high flexibility on solutions
  • Creativity to allow both parties to find new solutions and
  • A separation of the people from the problem

Interestingly, people’s`fear’ of conflict, is usually a ‘fear of unresolved conflict’.  This is why it is so important to tend to these conflict fires when they are still burning embers, rather than waiting for the flames to spread and the conflict is too great to be resolved effectively.

Alternately, recognise when conflict is building and choose a suitable strategy, ideally where both parties feel they have been heard and have had their interests addressed, as identified in the ‘collaboration’ style of conflict resolution.