In response to my previous posting “How to Make Conflict Work To Your Advantage,” I’ve been getting verbal comments that some people may be confused by my encouragement to openly confront conflict. As one person said, “I can’t confront people every time they annoy me – I’ll never get anything done” That’s true. So how do you decide which conflicts to confront and which ones to leave alone?
Here are a few guidelines to consider:
- How critical is the issue? Clearly unethical behavior must be confronted, along with issues related to safety and security. But everyday business situations can also warrant confrontation. For example, suppose you’re at a meeting where the team is pressing for closure, but you have critical information that you know will create conflict. In this case, you owe it to everyone to confront the conflict rather than squashing it down to go with the pressure to be quiet and conform.
- How frequently does the situation occur? There are many things in life that can be annoying, such as someone who agrees to do something but then is “too busy” to deliver on the promise. If it only happens once or infrequently – especially when there’s a good reason – then let it go and move forward. However, if you begin to detect a pattern, then it’s time to confront the conflict.
- What is your relationship with the person or group? If trust is low, be prepared for the process of confronting and resolving conflicts to take awhile. Before you take on someone who has far more power, it’s a good idea to enroll a colleague who is at that person’s peer level to back you up. If emotions are running high, it will be most productive to bring in an objective third party to facilitate a resolution.
In the end, I still believe that openly expressing conflict can be to your advantage for all of the reasons I mentioned in my previous post. However, it must tempered with judgment regarding timing, potential impact, and pragmatism. When we pick our battles wisely, it works to everyone's advantage.