Leading in a Diverse & Conflicted World
The problem with conflict is not its existence, but how it is managed. In order to manage effectively, one must have an extensive knowledge of conflict itself. Thus, it is important to acknowledge the two different types of conflict: interpersonal conflict and operations conflict.
Interpersonal conflict arises from disputes between people as a result of differences related to personality, style, age, ethnicity, gender, culture, language, and the like. These types of conflict are counterproductive in business situations because they cause employees to become obsessed with personality and character, rather than focusing their efforts on doing the best job possible.
By contrast, operations conflict has nothing to do with personal issues. It grows from debates inside corporations. This type of conflict can be positive because rather than focusing on personalities, it deals with products, services, procedures, and how the work surrounding these factors should be completed. Operational conflict, when discussed logically by people with varied skills and perceptions, helps organizations produce optimal results.
If companies wish to resolve their diversity-related problems and all that accompany them, they must develop conflict resolution skills at each level of responsibility. One way to form diverse, high-performing teams is to teach managers and team members how to view conflict positively and use it constructively.
Simply avoiding conflict will not make it go away. Instead, conflict will begin to spill over into other areas of work and erode team cohesion. When employees feel uncomfortable, they tend to spend energy on staying out of sight, particularly during times of actual crisis, such as restructuring, downsizes, and mergers.
Conflict avoidance is a big mistake in most situations, but particularly in relations with customers and stakeholders; it creates dissatisfied and disgruntled people who will eventually stop doing business with the firm. Leaders must develop strategies to constructively engage with dissatisfied customers and stakeholders in order to improve products and services and sustain organizational growth.
More than forty years of consulting and working within corporations have led me to one belief: many problems related to diversity arise from poor and ineffective—or completely nonexistent—communications and leadership. This has become the foundation for my hypotheses and I am certain that developing effective leadership characteristics and building effective communication skills are two of the greatest and most important challenges facing corporations and those who lead them.
Specific strategies are needed to teach employees the skills and behaviors needed to resolve conflicts productively. Corporations must encourage resolution of conflict and must clearly assist employees in understanding the negative effects associated with failing to deal with conflict in objective, open, direct, and timely ways. Those who are positive role models should be rewarded and celebrated. Those who are not there yet need to be educated, counseled, and given the opportunity to alter their behavior. If those employees cannot or do not change, they should be terminated.