Leadership and Office Conflicts: Understanding The Way Out

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Leadership and office conflicts are two intimate companions that can promote or bring a leader to the ground. Like identical twins; leadership and office conflicts are inseparable; you cannot avoid office conflicts in leadership. If you avoid it today, you will certainly not escape it tomorrow. Like cancer, the more a leader fails to deal with conflicts, the more it spreads and recks havoc in the team. Sadly, the inability of many leaders to deal with conflict resolution has reduced many organizations with growth potential to a mediocre playground. Why not? You cannot play “Mr. Nice” with conflict and expect an increase in team productivity.

The fear of conflict is counter-productive to leadership and damages organizations. You cannot lead effectively if you allow the fear of conflicts to overwhelm your judgment. Come to think of it, having constructive conflicts inspires growth regardless of your center of leadership calling – business, religion, family, or social. So, when it comes to leadership and office conflicts, embrace conflict resolution as part of your every day’s responsibility.

Factors to consider in leadership and office conflicts

The starting point for resolving conflicts is recognizing that conflict is healthy for organizational growth. Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of the conflicts and take steps to resolve them. First of all, let me emphasize that dealing with conflicts early enough skill will tremendously set your leadership apart. It means having the ability to constantly scale productivity by actively reducing frictions in engagement and team collaborations. Organizations that embrace conflicts have a high retention of the best talent. Also, they create and sustain the best workplaces.

What I see as a problem with leadership and office conflicts stems from the fear of conflict. For example, it was a taboo to discuss conflicts at leaders’ meeting in one organization that I was a part of. Everybody understands what is going wrong and takes pleasure to gossip about it. But nobody is confident enough to put the matter on the table at our monthly leaders’ meeting and force a conversation on it. Like an Ostritch, everyone buries their heads in their laps and pretend as if nothing was happening.

At the end of every meeting, they circle around and blame others. A few of us who talked about it were called “confrontationists.” What I am saying happens in companies. It also happens in churches, community setups, and other social circles. You know it, I know it, and everybody knows it; that the inability of leadership to resolve conflicts stifles creativity and frustrates an entire organization.

There are many things leaders can do to become great at conflict resolution. Time and again, the following considerations have produced greater results in conflict resolution.

Increase your Emotional Quotient (EQ)

Emotional Intelligence has become popular in our time. Every leader talks about it. What I am not clear about is how many leaders apply emotional intelligence in their day-to-day leadership. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand your personal emotions and those of the people around you. It is creating and managing the most effective relationships by leveraging what you already know about you and others when situations arise. Leaders having high emotional intelligence lead better and keep better relationships. As a result, they are able to resolve conflicts faster and increase productivity.

To increase your emotional quotient, you need to pay attention to what you say or do. In addition, how you say or do what you say or do, and the outcomes that follow are greatly important. Leaders having high emotional intelligence are insightful and reflective of their actions both now and in the past. They leverage empathy to demonstrate that they care. Why not? Genuine empathy is at the core of managing or resolving conflicts. Not only does empathy show that you care, but it positions you as the leader whom others can trust, also. The easiest way I find to demonstrate empathy is putting yourself in the other the other person’s shoes to understand his or her perspectives. Emotional intelligence brings humanity into conversations and opens up the feedback-loop for a constructive argument around conflict resolution.

Reinforce acceptable conducts and behaviours

Every organization has a set of written and unwritten codes that guide the conducts and behaviour of the people in the organization. These codes are commonly referred to as core values. Core values simply “labels” that define the beliefs, behaviours, and commitments that organizations cannot compromize. The problem with core values is that many leaders do not understand them. Some who claim to understand, pay lips service to them. Because core values shape an organization’s culture, its infringement by anyone attracts stern disciplinary measures. In fact, the disciplinary actions often result in dismissal in some organizations. The point I am making is that leaders have the responsibility in communicating the acceptable conducts and behaviours expected from their team to everyone in the team. it is important to make everyone aware of the acceptable conducts and behaviours in the organization/department, as well as the consequences for a breach. Here is an example.

Consequences of a breach of Professional conducts

Recently in Lagos, Nigeria; I was working with twenty-two senior leaders of a client, outside the client’s office. Halfway into the second day of our meeting, conflict ensued. It started as a conversation between two members of the group and slowly graduated into an argument. As the argument dragged, other group members took sides and escalated it. The disagreement was getting personal now, and some individuals were feeling uncomfortable. This was not a new client to me.

I have been working with them in the past five years and understood a few of their core values, one which is “Professionalism.” As I was calling the people to order, a senior lady in the group rose and said in a loud voice: “We are the reflection of our organization’s core values. The fact that we are holding this meeting outside our premises notwithstanding, our conducts cannot be anything different from maintaining Professionalism; and we are all aware of the consequences of any breach thereof.” That lady’s short address restored calm to the class; why not? When people are aware of the consequences of any breach in their commitment, they can do anything to avoid it.

Pay attention to conflict motivators

Every conflict has one or more factors motivating them. In consideration of leadership and office conflicts, you need to pay attention to the factors leading to the conflicts. Conflict motivators are at the very foundation of every disagreement. Therefore, any attempt at conflict resolution without identifying the conflict drivers often results in futility. For example, every party in a conflict understands “Why” he or she is in disagreement of the matter. Your role is to discover each party’s “Why” and address them in ways that fulfill the organization’s corporate objectives.

To identify conflict motivators in a conflict resolution process requires listening actively to all the parties involved. This is one area where your effective communication skill will be put to test. To listen actively is to pay attention to the other party without interrupting. It means listening with the intention to understand his or her perspectives without passing a judgment on them. Also, active listening helps to test your ability to hold your opinions to yourself until the other party finishes speaking. Except in rare instances, most office conflicts arise as a result of the obstacles hindering individuals from achieving their goals. Your role therefore, is to identify and remove the obstacles too enable each party achieve his or her goals.

“We are the reflection of our organization’s core values. The fact that we are holding this meeting outside our premises notwithstanding, our conducts cannot be anything different from maintaining Professionalism; and we are all aware of the consequences of any breach thereof.”

Offer constructive feedback

Contrary to what some leaders think, feedback it is not a time to judge your team. Feedback offers the opportunity to playback your understanding of the conflict to the parties, as well as validating your understanding. Until the parties in conflict resolution validate your understanding of the conflict, you cannot claim to understand the conflict motivators. So, your feedback must address the cause of the conflict based on your understanding of it. It is okay to give your opinions to the parties and bring them into an agreement. But from experience, it is more productive to ask the parties to identify the possible way forward. If you understood the motivatorst, then you can ask, for example; “What can you do now to ameliorate the issues and enhance productivity?”

The essence of your questioning is not to identify the one strategy that could resolve the conflict. Odds are you will not find any. Instead, you are looking for possible options you can convert into action plans that can resolve the conflice if executed. Make note of the options as they fall out, and ask for more until they could no longer offer any.

Set goals and follow through

An important task in leading through conflict resolution is identifying the conflict motivators and articulating the steps to eliminate them. Once the motivators have been identified by going through the “Paying Attention to Conflict Motivators” and “Offering Constructive Feedback” sections above, it is time to set goal to eliminate them. The goal section is easy. You only need to prioritize the options raised at the feedback stage and secure each party’s commitment to deal with them in turn. In that process, you will also set clear deadlines when each goal will be accomplished and follow through.



Author: Nkem Mpamah
Nkem Mpamah is Nigeria's #1 business coach, leadership and strategy consultant for the services industry. Nkem coaches successful entrepreneurs to improve performance, increase competitiveness, and expand the freedoms of entrepreneurship. He is the founder of Cognition Global Concepts, and creator of the The Strategic Growth Program." He is author of "The ART of Achievement and Fulfillment", and "The Entrepreneur".

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