It is inevitable that conflicts arise within organizations because of the individual differences of the people. There are people of different ages, cultures and ideals. If we are professionals, we understand that these issues are set aside within the performance of our job but, if we want to get to the bottom of this issue, can we really separate them 100%? On the other hand, it is not only these individual differences of a more personal nature that we have to live with, but also very different perspectives on the professional level, and these are also unavoidable. Who hasn’t experienced this? Is it always negative? What can we do to solve this? 

Conflict in itself does not necessarily have to be negative. You may have been surprised to read this because you are tired of having to deal with the clash of ideas that you see every day, but think of the positive force that can come from breaking the status quo. Think about the emergence of new ideas or approaches that can lead to the possibility of change and evolution. It is possible to get something productive out of it after all, isn’t it? Conflict should therefore not be understood as something negative by default but as something natural, positive and productive that arises in day-to-day interactions between people and teams. 

If conflict is not a problem in itself, why does it often have negative repercussions? The answer lies in its management. The problem with conflict is that it must be properly managed. In the 1970s, Kilmann and Thomas of the University of California defined five styles of dealing with conflict in terms of assertiveness or determination and cooperation:


  • Avoiding: This is about reducing or ignoring the conflict and moving on. It does not provide a solution or learning, as the conflict remains and nothing is built on it. Unresolved conflict is usually not a good idea because it can resurface at any time. 
  • Competing: This style is about each party fighting for its own interest without yielding to the opinions of others or reaching consensus. If one side gives in, it is resolved quickly, but it can take its toll on morale. It is power-oriented and not oriented towards the best solution per se. This style is often used when there is no time to talk and try another solution.
  • Accommodating: This is when you put the needs of others before your own needs. We tend to do this when the issue is not as important to us as it is to the other person or if we feel that the debate is not worthwhile. We often choose which battles we want to fight and which we do not.  It  can be an option if we do not want to spend time on one issue in order to devote it to a more important one, although it can leave a sense of loss.
  • Collaborating: This type of coping is complicated to manage but offers very good results in the long run. It requires respect, listening, equal treatment and trust in the value of each person and team. It is about finding a balance where all parties negotiate, participate, are satisfied and everyone wins. It is used when it is necessary to maintain the relationships of all parties involved or when the solution has a high impact.
  • Compromising: This is about reaching an agreement between the parties where each party gives up and gets one aspect of what they stand for. All parties win and all parties lose. It is usually used if the objective is to reach a solution as soon as possible due to time constraints, even if it is not the best one, if none of them is perfect and a decision has to be made, or if all the interests defended are equally important and consensus is needed. 

The strategies that generate the least learning and do not solve the issue are avoidance and competitiveness. Competitiveness can be healthy but only to a certain extent and as long as it is not purely power-oriented. According to Keepler’s values (transparency, leadership, continuous improvement and solidarity) we can rule out these two. What about the others? Some may be more appropriate for one occasion and others for another. The question when choosing how to act is always to manage conflict by orienting it, not to particular points of view, but to the objective pursued at group or organizational level and to depersonalize our opinion by arguing from the place of the organization we represent. We are being greatly helped in this by our values, which always serve as a guide, and by our transition to Holacracy, the structure with which we are organizing our company, based on the absence of hierarchies and decision-making by circles or groups that serve a purpose. Holacracy helps us to realize decision-making and conflict resolution by defining purposes, domains and responsibilities that serve to focus on different issues. Furthermore, we always speak from the role we are assuming at a given moment, not from our personal opinion (which may or may not coincide).

The most important thing is to approach conflict with an open mind and a capacity to listen. In the end, a conflict always offers us an opportunity for change, for sharing and generating knowledge, for improvement and growth. We just need to know how to see it and take advantage of this challenge. And you, do you like conflicts?


Image: Unplash | @wacalke

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Agile Practitioner at Keepler. "I love working as a team and each person contributing their bit to achieve the best solution. There is no successful company culture that does not focus on people."

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