In a recent program on conflict resolution for the marketing department of a health care company, I asked the following.
- Can you describe the conflicts that occur most often?
- What could be possible reasons for these disagreements?
- How these conflicts are usually resolved? Or they keep coming back?
As you would expect, this generated a lot of conversation. I had set the expectations of open discussion without finger pointing or blaming.
Conflict is Like an Iceberg
I use the idea of an iceberg to help people think about conflict in a positive, problem-solving way.
Above the water line are the “Symptoms” – for example: Forgetting – Chronic lateness – Dragging one’s feet – Not paying attention – Avoiding or ignoring requests – Rolling eyes, whispering, put-downs. Others than I’m sure you can come up with.
Below the water line are the “Real Causes” – here are six:
1. Perceptual Differences: Seeing things differently.
A common example is when two people can view the same event ( in a crime TV drama witnesses to a robbery) and have different perceptions (It was a tall guy with glasses; no it was short with a baseball cap, etc
2. Informational Differences: Having different facts or understanding.
The parable of the blind men and the elephant illustrates this. Briefly six blind men wanted to know what an elephant was like. Of course, being blind they had never seen one. So they went to find one and when they did, each touched a different part of the elephant. Of course, each had a different impression.
3. Procedural Differences: Having different ways of doing thing.
How do you start a puzzle? From number 1 and go systematically? Or start anywhere you can and work from there?
4. Goals Differences: Disagreeing about priorities and importance.
This happens between different functional groups. In many companies, sales and marketing is driven by quotas – getting more customers; production by quality – making sure it meets specific standards. The conflict arises when one group has expectations that don’t coincide with the other group.
5. Role Based Differences: Disagreeing about responsibility and accountability.
Who does what? It’s your job; not it’s yours; I make the decision; no I do. This happens a lot regarding line and staff authority; or corporate vs business units.
6. Personality Differences: Behaving and communicating in different ways.
Someone is a quick, shoot for the hip decision maker and the other is slower, more methodical. Or someone is task focused, and wants you to get to the point fast and the other is likes to talk about all kinds of things before getting down to business.
What Was Causing the Most Conflict?
It was role based differences. There was lack of clarity as to who’s accountable for monitoring deadlines as well as who has final authority on marketing collateral and a whole range of other issues.
What Was the Solution?
I introduced Steven Covey’s model and had them focus on what they could influence. There were several suggestions: taking responsibility to ask questions and verify client’s expectations; using less email for communication with other functional groups and more personal interaction; and to get clarification and support from management as to the department’s responsibilities and authority.
Management Success Tip:
Conflict is inherent in our differences—in people’s differing backgrounds, perspectives, values, needs, goals, expectations, etc. Conflict by itself is neither good nor bad. It’s the way we manage conflict that produces constructive or destructive results. What are the main conflicts in your organization, department or team? Also see Manage Conflict Before It Erupts
Do you want to develop your Management Smarts?