Maybe you’ve mastered conflict resolution and you like to help others. Maybe you are the one that others come to for help when they have a conflict or you work in an environment where conflict occurs regularly. But somehow you find yourself stepping in and helping to resolve the conflicts around you. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It depends.
It certainly makes more sense for you to be involved in healthy conflict as opposed to unhealthy conflict. And today we will focus on healthy conflict.
What is healthy conflict? In the course of working together, it is normal to have differences of opinions about how work should be completed or who should complete the work or what is the highest priority— or similar issues. When individuals can discuss these differences in a professional manner without making it personal, that is healthy. People might become animated or passionate during this kind of conversation; but it’s clear that they care. They care about the subject at hand. They are animated and passionate about an idea, but this passion does not involve trying to hurt someone emotionally or physically.
Unhealthy conflict; is personal and hurtful. It’s when there is a disagreement and perhaps this is expressed by insulting another person, making faces at them, making nasty comments to them or making nasty comments about them behind their backs. In extreme situations, it can include threats to your personal safety or even escalate to physical violence.
Unhealthy conflict interferes with people’s ability to do their work.
Healthy debate on workplace teams can lead to better strategy and decisions and should be encouraged. Most of us work with others and that means we are accountable to someone other than ourselves. Being accountable on a team can and should mean that others will challenge you to do a better job or to follow through on a commitment. That’s good. If on your team there is never any kind of conflict or disagreement – that is weird. This is a sign that people are hiding things, perhaps they are afraid to express their true opinions or to engage in conflict.
Should you get involved? You might just have the natural inclination to step in and resolve conflicts whenever, wherever you see them. And people come to you specifically for this assistance. That does not mean you always should step in.
Conversely, some of you cannot stay far enough away from conflict. You want no part of it, not now, not ever. If you think somebody is even going to start any kind of conflict, you want to run from the room. Well, guess what? That’s not a viable approach either. There will be times when you need to step up and step in to help resolve conflicts.
Consider using these questions to decide if you should step in and put on your conflict resolution hat:
1) Are you in a leadership position? If the answer is yes, you should get involved. If the answer is no, skip to question 3. All of you have the opportunity to be a leader because leadership is not just about a role or a title. But in this situation, I’m really asking you, are you officially in a role of leadership?
2) If you are in a leadership position, do the parties involved report directly to you? Your answer to this question determines how you get involved.
If the parties involved are your direct reports or on your team, yes step in and work to resolve the conflict. If the parties are not your direct reports, are you the right person to help or should you refer it back to their management? If a conflict is occurring right in front of you and it clearly requires someone to step in right now. Then do it.
When you are in a leadership position, helping to resolve conflict is a critical part of your responsibility. Like it or not, conflict that is not resolved gracefully or not resolved at all, damages everyone. It festers and it undermines the work environment and it is bad for morale. As a leader, you have a responsibility for the environment and culture that
you’re giving to your teams, supporting your team in the best possible work environment and making sure that conflict is resolved appropriately and in a timely manner is a part of that.
3) Ask yourself, does this conflict require immediate resolution? If the answer is yes and you are the right person to assist, step in right now. (This assumes the leader is not present.) If resolution of the conflicts can be delayed, you might consider discussing it with the right member of your leadership team. Tell them what you observed and ask them if they would like you to be involved.
Some other points to consider: Not all situations require, the boss to step in. I’m not advocating keeping secrets from your management. But you DO know that your leadership does expect all of YOU to be able to solve some problems without them, right? So,
should they be involved? If it’s a major conflict, then they should be involved. If not, can you and the team work this out on your own?
Another factor to consider —are you directly involved in the conflict? Are you one of the parties directly involved in the conflict? If so you are already involved. Can you objectively facilitate the resolution or should you ask another unbiased resource to assist?
These are not hard and fast rules many situations you will need to make a judgment call. We are talking about situational leadership.
You are observing something and in the moment, you decide your strategy. You know your approach and based upon your comfort level with the conflict and the possible ways to resolve that conflict you decide how to move ahead.