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Conflict in the workplace is unavoidable, yet there is a tendency for executives to shy away from involving themselves in conflict resolution. It's a sad reality that when two employees have a difference of opinion with respect to how they work with each other, a lot of managers don't feel comfortable dealing with it. In these cases, managers often project the attitude that their direct reports shouldn't come running to them with their problems-that they should work out conflicts amongst themselves-which of course they can do. However, this almost always results in suboptimal decisions.

Why Conflicts Occur

Rarely are employee conflicts the result of one individual wanting to do work the right way, and one individual wanting to do work the wrong way. Most often, each employee is right from their perspective. Conflict occurs-not because one wants to undermine the other or they don't want to work things out-but because of a difference of equally valid opinions.

For example, say the head of operations and the head of finance have a disagreement over how to prioritize the various aspects of a project. They are both approaching the project from different angles. Each knows what is best for their department, but they lack a global understanding of what is best for the organization as a whole.

Whenever there is an unresolvable conflict between employees like this, someone higher up in the organization should make the final decision. Otherwise you end up with a decision that is a tradeoff or unsatisfactory compromise; as opposed to one that is optimal for the organization as a whole. Even high-level executives should be able to bring their conflicts to someone higher up in the organization. In fact, the idea that managers can work out their differences amongst themselves is number eight in our list of The Top 12 Fallacies That Get In The Way of Organizational Performance. In the case of the head of operations and the head of finance, that person would be the CEO.

The Consequences of Poor Conflict Resolution

When employees have to resolve conflicts amongst themselves usually neither is satisfied with the outcome, and that can poison their relationship going forward. This can lead to silos, where certain departments or sectors stop sharing information with others. Poor conflict resolution also leads to employee disengagement. All of which are symptoms of ineffective managerial communication.

Being able to effectively deal with workplace conflict is an important part of managerial work. While managers should encourage their direct reports to use their best efforts to resolve disagreements on their own, if they can't resolve issues themselves, they should be able to bring them to their manager and their manager should make the decision for them.


Dwight Mihalicz

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