Listening to Conflict: Creating Value Through Constructive Resolution
By Erik Van Slyke Managing Director, Solleva | June 12, 2011
Conflict is a regular part of life in the hospitality industry. Whether in the kitchen or the laundry room, the front desk or the board room, misunderstandings, personality clashes, and differences of opinion are standard fare for workplace interactions. Whether at work or at home, people seem destined to be in a constant state of discord. In fact, recent research in neuroscience has demonstrated that our brains may well be hard-wired with a bias toward conflict.
The downside is evident. Studies show that 60-80% of all organization challenges stem from strained relationships between employees, not from deficits in individual employee skills or motivation. As a result, it is estimated that managers spend 25-40% of their time dealing with conflicts. That's one to two days of every work week!
But conflict has real benefits, too. It increases our awareness of problems, promotes discussions that lead to better quality decisions, increases organizational learning, stimulates creativity, and when managed well, strengthens relationships. A certain amount of healthy struggle is good for organizations. People, and organizations, perform at their best when they are under the right kinds and amounts of stress.
Since conflict is a normal event that can produce important results, our goal as leaders and individual employees should not be to eliminate it. Instead, we should create an environment that encourages and maintains its positive and productive aspects. The challenge for managers is to create a level of conflict that stimulates interaction and creativity without provoking destructive battles. This requires learning how to model the techniques of constructive conflict management and the process of collaborative problem-solving.
Modeling the Behavior
When we are in conflict with another person, the first step we often take toward resolution is to offer additional information intended to demonstrate the logic and reasoning that supports our view of a fair solution. When the other person remains unconvinced, we typically try harder to convince them by persuading, arguing, manipulating, sulking, bullying, or withdrawing from the interaction. Very often, this process proves time-consuming and frustrating, and the disagreement ends without a satisfactory resolution. Managers, in particular, often intensify the problem because of their own and others' expectation that they must always have the "one right answer." The unfortunate result is that all parties walk away from the interaction thinking, "Why don't they listen to me?!"