Management by Paul Engle
Industrial Engineer's monthly column about engineering management (November 2012)
Most staff members will find themselves in the uncomfortable position of competing with others for resources, power, influence, money or prestige. Conflict becomes personal because of the positive and negative consequences associated with the outcome. But conflict is healthy because it allows the organization to make the changes and adjustments necessary for survival and success.
What happens afterward is, perhaps, even more important. Unfortunately, many organizations produce winners and losers when conflicts break out and are settled. This represents one of the most destructive aspects of anyone’s career and well-being. Some organizations have implemented conflict resolution as a means of settling contentious issues amicably so that everyone’s interests are served. This group appears to be in the minority, however.
Many of you may have experienced or will experience heated arguments or long-running battles with colleagues. To be effective, you may be required to reconcile differences and rebuild relationships with your adversary. While no single approach will be effective in every situation, approaches offered here could help.
All healthy relationships are built upon mutual respect, some level of trust and common interests. Working with other people requires a return for both parties on the investment of time and resources. In the aftermath of a conflict, the two parties involved must decide that it is in their best interest to move on, let old differences go, and find common ground on which to build a new relationship. Again, this new arrangement must include mutual respect and a realization by both parties that continued progress will be more difficult without a relationship than with one.
As the saying goes, time heals most wounds. Bruised feelings and wounded pride may take some former foes a while to get past. But eventually the sharp pain subsides and both parties can discuss their differences and, more importantly, find common interests and mutual respect after a period of time.
Inviting your foe to a social event in a public place may break the ice and ease the tension. The event may seem trivial, but it communicates a desire to begin the reconciliation process. During this encounter, avoid bringing up past events or areas of disagreement. The focus should be on common ground and moving forward. Rebuilding relationships takes time, effort and investment. Many such encounters may be necessary before any meaningful relationship emerges.
Working with your foe on a team or project could serve to rebuild trust and provide a common interest or objective. Combatants may begin to understand and appreciate each other when they operate in a neutral arena. Again, time spent working in areas of common interest typically fosters a new relationship that allows both sides to grow and be successful.
In some cases, reconciliation may not be possible due to the personalities involved, the stress of the workplace, conflicting objectives and priorities. In this case, many try to maintain a gracious, civil demeanor and attempt to understand the concerns and stress of their colleague. Or one or both parties may leave the organization and their conflicts, resolved or not, behind.
Can all conflicts be resolved amicably? Probably not. Long-term success may be difficult to achieve without the ability to disagree respectfully and courteously and then move on after the conflict has been settled. In any case, the effort will be its own reward.
Paul Engle is a management consultant with an MBA in finance. He has more than 25 years of experience in management, operations, product development, sales and marketing, strategic planning and business process improvement. You may contact him at email@example.com.