Managers have a rather distinctive ability in an organization to create conflict. While everyone has that potential—and we’ve all known co-workers who seem particularly gifted in this regard—managers are uniquely situated to cause as much conflict as possible. Therefore, it would do managers well to understand both the nature of conflict as well as their own “conflict style,” as Ron Kraybill puts it (I will use Kraybill’s terminology throughout this article).
Understanding your Conflict Style
Your Conflict Style is how you typically respond to conflict in normal (“calm”) and emotional (“storm”) situations. However, your conflict style can also tell you how you can create conflict.
For example, often managers will fall into an almost exclusive Directing style, which places a high value on the agenda—what has to be accomplished—and a low emphasis on interpersonal relationships. Many Directors just want to get the job done, and don’t care if they are liked, or even if their employees are happy on the job. Often their very attitude creates conflict. They are adversarial when they don’t need to be, and resort to various negative reinforcement techniques as motivational tools. Think Scrooge before the whole ghosts of Christmas thing. Of course, there are times when Directing is the appropriate course of action—knowing when to direct and when to use a different style is the key.
Understanding others’ Conflict Styles
It is also very helpful to understand the conflict styles of those who report to you, as using the wrong approach can create rather than reduce conflict. Let’s say you have an employee who is a strong Harmonizer (someone who always gives in, sacrificing their own opinions to be agreeable). This can be great for a while, especially if you are a Director—in your mind, that’s the ideal employee. However, this will lead to conflict, though perhaps hidden, and be unproductive in the long term.
But, what if you are a committed collaborator? You really want others’ opinions on how to get things done, but your harmonizing employees drive you nuts, as they will never share their opinions.
There are ways of working with people of different styles, in order to reduce unnecessary conflict, improve communication and decision-making, and also improve performance. It just takes awareness; and, it doesn’t hurt if your team all understands their own conflict styles and can learn to utilize different styles to better work together.
It’s up to you
As I’ve said before, as the leader, it’s your job to lead. I am reminded of the old saying, “There go my people; I must follow them, for I am their leader.” There is a lot of truth here, especially as it related to team interaction. As leader, you set the course for your followers. Are you going to reduce conflict, or be the cause of it?