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Why Managing Conflict Is Important

Why Managing Conflict Is Important

Since 1983 the Center for Creative Leadership has conducted research on derailment—contrasting those people who make it to the top with people who were once successful but in the end were demoted, fired, or sidelined. In the research, successful managers were described as those who seek out, build, and maintain effective relationships with others. They listen—willingly, actively, and patiently. They willingly receive feedback and effectively respond to it. They support others’ ideas. They perform as promised and maintain commitments. Derailed managers were described as disconnected, disagreeable, dictatorial, and divisive. They mishandled interpersonal relationships. Specific examples of their ineffective relationships include having an unresolved interpersonal conflict with a boss and showing unprofessional behavior related to a disagreement with upper management.

The Look of Conflict

In a large manufacturing company, the vice president of operations had ten direct reports. She got along well with eight of the ten. Two of her reports, however, proved difficult to work with. From her perspective, she felt they were threatened by the changes she had instituted since taking her position because both employees were “old timers.” She also knew that they socialized together, and she thought this tended to encourage their mutual negativity. Despite the difficulties, she didn’t regard her interactions with these two reports as a “conflict” situation. In her mind, conflicts resulted from personality clashes, not employee resistance. In this case she saw her direct reports as resisting change, and she saw herself as responsible for gaining their commitment.

The two direct reports, the director of quality and the director of manufacturing, described their relationship with the vice president as conflicted. From their perspective, every time they tried to disagree with their less experienced boss, she shut them down. They felt very frustrated. They thought they had tried to get through to her on numerous occasions, and had even talked about how unreceptive she was to their ideas. Because they saw the relationship as filled with conflict, they put more time and emotional energy into fixing the relationship than their boss did. This inequity caused even greater frustration and eventually stopped communication up the chain from director to vice president.

The difference in how the vice president and the directors defined conflict and how they saw their relationship exacerbated all of these problems. Often how individuals define conflict influences how they approach such a relationship. At the same time, each person in the relationship judges that approach based on his or her own view of conflict.



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