Today’s Conflict Management needs an Integrated Approach

The COVID-19 has taught us many things. And as leaders of the 21st century, we have the pressure to focus not only on staying relevant but also sustaining for the future, which means not only do we need to preserve but learn to channelize our energies to deal with the challenges of this environment called the VUCA. How do we then adopt a non-linear approach to resolving conflicts? How do we think out of the box while keeping human aspects in mind? How could we change our viewing points, seeing how others see it and connect the dots for mutual benefit?

There are 3 key terms in the title – Conflict, Conflict Management, and Integrated approach. Let us see what they mean and how we can put this all together.

Conflict according to Merriam-webster dictionary, is a competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons). In layman terms, it is a disagreement between one or two people or groups. These disagreements can arise basically from five sources. Information, value, interest, relationships, and structures.

Each of us understand information differently based on the source, how much information we have or even with, what kind of information we consider as relevant for the conversation.

Conflicts can arise based on our belief systems, on what we value as individuals or groups. People forget that, one can have an open discussion without having to agree or disagree. We can learn to live peacefully by being non-judgmental on a new perspective, being empathic without sacrificing our beliefs and values.

We are all social beings and poor communication often leads to relationship conflicts. We may have different tastes, perceived, or actual incompatible needs or motivations, past experiences and assumed perceptions that can lead to strong negative emotions that strain relationships. As leaders, how we want to spend the budget, resources, time, what we want to spend it on –  business as usual or Innovation, on travel or on assets, on employee engagement or on community related activities can be sources of conflict too.

The society the way it is, the power imbalance, titles, ethnicity, geography, race, gender, color, limited resources, fewer opportunities, organization structures, policies, metrics and more can cause structural conflicts.

In short, where there are interactions, there is scope for conflict. As Mary Follet, an Organization Psychologistdescribes, Conflict is a natural and inevitable part of life.

The second term, Conflict Management according to Wikipedia is the process of limiting the negative aspects of conflict while increasing the positive aspects of conflict.

The aim of conflict management is to enhance learning and group outcomes, including effectiveness or performance in an organizational setting. As leaders, how are we managing conflict? Is it improving outcomes or impairing outcomes? 

Mary Follet, rightly says, Conflict Management does not necessarily have to lead to deleterious outcomes. Rather, if approached with the right analytical and imaginative tools a conflict can present an opportunity for positive or constructive development. And there are three ways to respond to it – Dominance, Compromise, and Integration.

If we correlate these approaches with the leadership styles, we teach at ALJ, Dominance means a win-lose strategy, one of them loses the play. Most expert & achiever leaders globally have this approach as a default style to resolveconflicts, and why not? Their key goal is to WIN either because they are experts or because they have to achieve results. But they fail to see that, though it does give you the win in the short term, it is unproductive in the long run. You may lose relationships, future opportunities, trust and credibility that’s needed for sustained success.

Most of us, as expert and achiever leaders also use Compromise, a lose-lose strategy, where the frustration is not just for one of us but for both of us. It means both of us must give up something for the sake of the outcome. Thatagain is unproductive in the long run. And because compromise entails giving up something valuable, losing value causes duress and hence not sustainable either.

Now, the third term Integration is key. It means getting creative and incorporating ideas and suggestions from all those involved to come up with a solution that satisfies interests and needs of all. It is not only a new way of looking at things, but also encourages everyone to work together without compromising or sacrificing anything towards the outcome.

Integration means open and honest communication – complete transparency and shared understanding by giving full attention to every aspect of the situation, which means uncovering the context leading to better clarity, breaking down and revaluating the problem at hand in its entirety. This means understanding that the solution can be so much more than what we initially thought about, it means putting our thoughts and ideas on the table and killing it, if need be, to accommodate other newer alternatives and ideas. It also means dropping the ‘hero mindset’and accepting ‘I don’t have all the answers’ and seeking to learn with an open mind. It means truly expressing and not just sharing, deriving energies from each other, and truly co-creating.

It may sound impossible for most as it requires a totally new mindset that moves you away from your comfort zone, moves you away from the default of either/or to an ‘and’ mindset. Knowing that it is not going to be easy and having the patience and the courage to be vulnerable, to be true to oneself and the other is key to Integration.

What is your default style to conflict resolution? Are you willing to try Integration in your next conversation?

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