5 Myths About Workplace Conflict

#1: Conflict is always negative and should be avoided at work. 


Quite the contrary. When problems are hidden or masked, they aren’t solved. They fester and grow into bigger problems. Workplace conflict is often creativity and innovation trying to happen and savvy organizations look for ways to embrace and optimize conflict. When people sit down and talk, calmly and rationally, information and different viewpoints are exchanged which can lead to innovative solutions and better working relationships. Embrace the idea that conflict is essential in the workplace if it’s part of a creative and engaged culture that wants the organization to grow and thrive.

#2: Difficult people are almost always the cause of conflict.


People’s behavior, not the individual, can cause difficulty. While bad behavior is certainly a contributing cause of conflict, it’s not the only cause. Lack of realistic expectations is a big contributor to conflict. People need to know what their jobs entail and what success in their individual role looks like. Change is another contributing factor. Change is uncomfortable for many people – so get ahead of it. To lessen the likelihood of conflicts from change, communicate early and often.


#3: The problem at the root of a conflict is usually obvious. 


Too often people assume that they understand the root cause of a problem and jump to conclusions. Getting to the source involves dialogue, conversations and some detective work. There are a number of skills and techniques that you have to employ: attending skills which put everyone on an even level; encouraging skills enabled others to elaborate; clarifying skills to reduce ambiguity and establish clarity; and reflecting skills that allow the opportunity to restate in your own words what you’ve hear the other person say. Get good information by varying the types of questions you ask, such as open-ended questions, close-ended questions, fact-based questions or opinion-based questions.

#4: In conflict, there are always winners and losers. 


This is true if you follow the theory of position-based bargaining, but it won’t solve the problem or resolve the conflict. A better approach is interest-based problem solving. When you focus on interests – what’s best for everyone involved – it makes dialogue and discussion central to resolution. Explaining interests and why they are important creates an opportunity to stand in each other’s’ shoes and contemplate the problem from a different viewpoint. It can uncover mutual interests and values and helps everyone make more informed decisions.


#5: It’s a manager’s responsibility to intervene and fix problems on her team.

Managers often find themselves trapped in the middle of a situation involving members of their team – situations or issues that are not theirs to solve, and a typical reaction is to intervene. Unless a problem involves behavior or performance that needs to be addressed, a manager doesn’t necessarily own it – the employees do. Employees need the freedom and authority to solve problems that relate to their work, without a solution being imposed on them. A guiding principal—in fact a golden rule—of conflict resolution is that the problem should be solved by the individuals who own it.

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