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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Benefits of Conflict, Part 1

Posted by William on July 23, 2012

What you see is not as important as what you perceive.

Successful managers know a powerful truth: Perception is everything. The implication is that you can turn any situation around simply by changing how you perceive it. For example, when you are faced with a conflict within your facility and you see it as a “problem,” you create a negative mindset and can experience negative emotions (dread, disgust and even depression).

But if you think of that same set of circumstances as a “situation,” or even a “challenge,” you may have an easier time solving it. When you’ve really mastered the art of positive perception, you might even think of a conflict as an “opportunity.” Changing your perception of conflict can help you to be a better manager by enabling you to handle problems more effectively, and at an earlier stage, which can create a better workplace for everyone.

A scary thing to be avoided?

The word conflict conjures up gut-wrenching images for most people of battles and bad feelings. Viewed in this light, conflict is another “problem,” something to be avoided at all costs. But those who think of conflict in this way forget that virtually no important situation is resolved without some conflict. The question is not whether to face conflict, but rather, when to face it, and, more importantly, how.

A better view of conflict

A more positive way to view conflict is that it provides an opportunity. In their book, Psychology for Leaders: Using Motivation, Conflict and Power to Manage More Effectively, Mary and Dean Tjosvold state that, “Conflict identifies issues, creates incentives to explore them and provides a medium to move toward resolution. It is through conflict that unity and justice can be reached.” In short, conflict is the furnace in which a solution is forged and new realities are created. Why, then, do so many managers fear conflict and attempt to avoid it?

Human nature seems inherently conflict-adverse. It is tempting to try to avoid situations that require thinking, planning and action. Many people simply hope that problems will just go away, although they know that approach is an invitation to disaster. Small ignored situations become larger problems that must eventually be faced. By that time, the situation is worse than when it was first discovered.

Managers who are forced to do something about a problem will often try to find a quick “fix” for it. The “solution” winds up being, like most reactive decisions, unsatisfactory at best. This is how a vicious cycle of problem-avoidance-reaction begins.

Stop the conflict cycle

The first step in preventing this cycle of avoiding conflict is to redefine the situation. Conflict is viewed negatively because it may be seen as, “If I win, you must lose.”

But in a fitness facility, everyone should have the same objectives and should be working together to achieve those objectives. In conflict situations, the controversy usually isn’t about what the final solution should be, but the best way to get there. Once everyone understands that conflict is a disagreement about how to reach common goals, the need for opposing camps and beating the “other side” is gone. This cooperative view of conflict can help to foster an environment of trust and teamwork.

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