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Harness the positive energy of conflict.

Constructive conflict. These words seem to contradict each other. Children are taught to avoid conflict, and this lesson is brought to the workplace-compromise is good; conflict is bad.

Not so, says Dr. Elaine Yarbrough, a conflict management expert who has been a consultant for major companies such as GTE and Hewlett-Packard. Conflict is a critical element in everything. Without it there is no growth, no challenge, only a boring sameness. Conflict equals excitement.

Constructive conflict is managed conflict--the catalyst for innovation and productivity. Conflict is in inevitable, so why not harness its positive energy? The pace of today's business world has increased destructive conflict. More demands create more conflicts, and the situation is likely to get worse.

To change conflict from destructive to constructive, the following eight negative ideas must be replaced with positive ones that harness the energy conflict creates:

* Conflict can be avoided through effective communication and good management. Yarbrough calls this impossible. Because conflict produces growth, she says, people must learn to live with and manage it.

* In a conflict, each party must clearly state his or her position. This won't help. Positions are usually obvious. People's interests, not positions, are at the heart of all conflicts.

Consider this example. Two people want the same orange. They compromise and cut the orange in two. Conflict resolved? Maybe. Each gets half of what he or she wanted. But, if each had known the other's interests--one wanted to eat the fruit and the other wanted to use the rind to make a cake--each person could have had all of what he or she wanted.

* Conflicts are always the source of blowups. Blowups are usually not related to the original conflict. They occur when people's real interests are swept under the rug. Blowups are usually triggered by a minor, unrelated point. To avoid getting sidetracked by a blowup, conflicting parties should concentrate on finding and managing the real conflict.

* People should be encouraged to talk about the real issues that are causing the conflict. People's interests are the issues that cause conflicts. People often don't recognize their interests.

For example, an executive refuses to make coffee because it is demeaning. That is his or her position. The issue causing the conflict is power. But who is willing to admit that? It isn't necessary to get people to admit their interests, just identify them.

* Deal with the conflict after people have had time to cool off. Yarbrough says deal with the conflict immediately.

* The person responsible for resolving the conflict must be in control. According to Yarbrough, if a participant is not vulnerable to some degree in a conflict, he or she is holding too many chips. And if an individual doesn't have any stake in the conflict, he or she won't work to resolve it.

* Every conflict should be resolved in the same style. Varying that style confuses people. Any individual who sticks to this idea is too rigid and won't know when to back off or when to zero in. Everyone must be flexible--and that means a willingness to let go of a preferred style.

* Don't do anything to increase the tension caused by a conflict. When people drag their diplomatic feet, they hinder the resolution process. If tensions must increase to resolve the conflict, then it is worth it.

Here's how to resolve a conflict:

* Clarify mutual dependence: "Look, we need each other to get the job done."

* State goals for the other person: "So, what you want is to move your offices in three weeks."

* State consequences of not resolving conflict: "If we don't work this out, we may both lose our jobs."

* Use threats productively: "The home office has threatened to send in its own people. Let's avoid that."

* Solicit feedback: "Why i s the three-week time frame important to you for this project?"

* Find other ways to meet the goals: "Could your people use the conference room for three weeks if I can get you moved in four weeks?"

To tap the positive energy of conflict, the outward signs of conflict must be identified. Agitation and resistance are reactions to conflict. To resolve the situation, what preceded those reactions must be discovered. It's important to observe nonverbal signals.

Next, interests, not the positions, should be identified. Power, affection, and self-esteem are at the center of most conflicts. It helps to:

* Find out the other person's interests.

* Observe the surroundings. For example, people with lots of plaques and awards hanging on their walls may want recognition.

* Ask others in the organization for input.

* Find out how people want to be treated and treat them that way.

The information collected should be used to discover creative solutions and devise a plan for action and accountability. Also, an agreement to prevent similar conflicts should be developed.

Sometimes, a conflict should not be resolved immediately. Knowing when to hold off and when to proceed can keep a manager from making a bad situation even worse.

Hold off if the interests of the conflicting parties can't be identified. Interests should be written down. If an individual can't come up with a list, he or she is not ready to proceed.

Action should be delayed if only one person thinks a conflict exists.

For these techniques to work, conflict resolvers must operate in good faith. They must genuinely want to arrive at a solution, not just serve their own interests. It takes a long time to build trust. A mismanaged conflict can destroy trust in no time at all.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Managing
Author:Hunt, Lynne B.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Previous Article:Computer security - technology and the tablets.
Next Article:Interviewing and Interrogation: The Reid Technique.

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