Conflict costs organizations – financially (through litigation, grievances, absenteeism, retention etc.), AND in other ways such as the impact that ill-managed conflict has on morale, productivity, the ability to make decisions, problem solve, and be creative. Most organizations (and people) are reactive when it comes to conflict, and OD and coaching principles and practice have the potential for providing proactive approaches that prevent unnecessary conflict and help make effective conflict engagement the norm rather than something to be avoided – until it is too late.
Effective conflict management is not commonly identified as a core competency for leaders, and there is a paucity of information about what constitutes conflict competent leaders and organizations. Much leadership coaching work however, is focused on helping leaders develop the knowledge, skills and abilities to engage more effectively in conflict and better manage interpersonal and other disputes.
Mission statements and codes of conduct are commonly subject to interpretation and often do not consider cultural differences. Some expectations about how staff are supposed to ‘behave’ are otherwise unspoken and unwritten. In any case there are many problems about trying to instil respectful ways of interacting. In actuality, the results of such efforts are the 'stuff' of grievances, the need for mediation, investigations, human rights complaints and so on. In the well-meaning efforts to provide a framework for staffs' communications, many workplaces do not provide the requisite training, coaching or modelling to effectively implement and sustain ‘good’ behaviour. What is more, they do not provide the ways and means for staff to easily access assistance.
Conflict has yet to be fully embraced as an opportunity for organizations to achieve more positive outcomes. Such outcomes are for instance, to examine disparate ideas in order to innovate and create new ways to solve problems, to explore possibilities based on opposing views and differences, to improve relationships so that productivity increases and staff are healthy contributors.
Imagine if we, as leaders, were able to create an environment in which the nature of conversations that occur in that environment preclude what we term as “interpersonal disputes,” disgruntlement, and generally bad behaviours; an environment in which mission statements (which I think are relatively counter-productive in most cases) and codes of conduct (ditto, especially with a disparity between espoused and in-use theories of action) are not converted into weapons with the intention of beating recalcitrant employees into submission.
Our proposed master’s program is designed with this effect in mind. For example, one of the key objectives of our Human Thriving course is to enable leaders – right from the program get-go – to begin to think about the nature of what I would call
Raising and mindfully (re)considering the topic of conflict management is exceptionally useful and important because it helps us understand with a new clarity what is fundamentally important about this new program we are proposing. Additionally, it assists to emphasize what I believe must be a core value that pervades all aspects of our curriculum narrative. I
Through our program, we will plant the seeds—essentially creating an appropriately conducive environment for our participants in which whatever is to emerge that enacts these values will emerge. I am trusting in the capacity of those whom we will attract to the program to bring forth conversations that perhaps none of us can specifically conceive of from the outset. We will encourage the juxtaposition of diverse contexts (and understanding the intrinsic value in such diversity), provide a wide range of analytical tools that enable useful thinking about polarity issues, and primarily focus on the multiple ways in which a healthy human and organizational ecology can be created, enabled, and actively encouraged out in the world, especially starting from the societal mess in which we collectively find ourselves. In these ways, conflict management may well become a thing of the past, replaced by its more effective counterpart, positive conflict engagement.