Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders

In collaborative work, especially in knowledge-based organizations, conflict is inherent. It can be constructive, producing outcomes that are superior to the outcomes that could have been produced without it. Or it can be destructive and toxic, destroying the working relationships of the collaborators. This program shows leaders how to keep conflict constructive, and how to make it constructive again if it turns destructive.

Conflict is inherent in collaborative work. When conflict is constructive, and managed constructively, it produces better outcomes. When it's destructive, it can be an insurmountable obstacle to success. In this program, we explore the connections between the outcomes of collaboration and conflict in both constructive and destructive forms. And we emphasize the skills needed most by leaders.

Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders

The Leader's role in conflict resolution is facilitative. Leaders who try to resolve team conflicts themselves risk depriving their teams of the chance to learn how to resolve their conflicts. Image (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Scott Maxwell.

Conflict is contention between two or more parties who have different objectives, needs, perspectives, or values. In the workplace, organizational objectives are often similar; in these cases, the method for attaining those objectives is usually the focus of the conflict. But objectives need not always be shared, for three reasons. First, people can understand organizational objectives differently. Second, particular parts of the organization can have parochial interests. Finally, personal objectives frequently enter the mix. But conflict need not be limited to differences about objectives. It can focus on anything at all. Anything.

In workplace collaborations, conflict is inevitable. It can have constructive forms, in which debates lead to better outcomes than any of the contending advocates could have achieved alone. And it can have destructive forms that damage relationships and limit the possibilities of fruitful collaboration.

The full-day format of this program includes a copy of 101 Tips for Managing Conflict for all participants and their supervisors. Ideal for those who like to supplement their learning by reading, or as a reference for later study. MoreWith respect to conflict resolution, the roles of group leaders or team leaders are critical. Some leaders believe that it's their responsibility to ensure that the contenders find the "right" resolution to their conflict. In this program, we take a different view. The primary goal of the leader is to help the contenders find a resolution that preserves — or restores — their ability to collaborate effectively. In some cases, this might require temporary adoption of an adequate, but less-than-optimal resolution. But if the alternative is significant and permanent loss of collaborative capacity, a non-optimal resolution might be a small price to pay.

It is for this reason, among others, that we view the leader's task as one of conflict management, rather than conflict resolution. The leader must manage the full catalog of conflicts — for, indeed, several might be active simultaneously — so as to ensure that the group achieves its objective with its capacity to collaborate intact, or even enhanced.

This program is available as a keynote, workshop, seminar, breakout, or clinic. For the shorter formats, coverage of the outline below is selective.

This insight-filled program deals with issues such as:

  • What are conflict and conflict management?
  • How can we distinguish between constructive conflict and destructive conflict?
  • Why don't command-based "resolve this" approaches work?
  • How do people respond to conflict? What is "fight or flight?"
  • What are the five conflict management modes?
  • What are the special challenges of virtual conflict?
  • Should we always resolve conflict as soon as it arises?
  • Are the skills needed for resolving constructive conflict and destructive conflict the same?

Learning objectives

This program helps leaders who want to become more effective at managing conflict. Learning objectives include:

  • Diagnose root causes of conflict within teams and between and among team members
  • Recognize conditions internal to teams that enhance the probability of escalation of destructive conflict
  • Become familiar with standard tools for resolving constructive conflict
  • Become familiar with standard tools for resolving destructive conflict
  • Understand under what conditions deferring resolution might be an appropriate choice
  • Recognize and identify the five conflict management modes
  • Understand the role of influence in conflict generation, conflict escalation, and conflict resolution
  • Become familiar with the conflict life cycle

Participants learn to appreciate the complexity of interpersonal conflict in the group context. Most important, they learn strategies and tactics for keeping conflict constructive, and intervening to make it constructive again.

Program structure and content

We learn through presentation, discussion, exercises, simulations, and post-program activities. We can tailor a program for you that addresses your specific challenges, or we can deliver a tried-and-true format that has worked well for other clients. Participants usually favor a mix of presentation, discussion, and focused exercises.

Based on attendee interest and program duration, topics will include, for example:

  • Defining conflict
  • The uses of conflict in the organizational setting
  • The peculiarities of virtual conflict
  • Root cause analysis for conflict
  • Derivative conflicts
  • Proxy conflicts
  • Resolving conflict: competition, collaboration, and suspension
  • Resolving virtual conflict
  • Intervention modes for leaders: negotiation, mediation, facilitation, and arbitration
  • Ethical questions in conflict resolution
  • Emotional issues in toxic conflict
  • Planning an intervention

Whether you're a veteran of workplace conflict resolution, or a relative newcomer, this program is a real eye-opener.

Learning model

When we learn most new skills, we intend to apply them in situations with low emotional content. But knowledge about how people work together is most needed in highly charged situations. That's why we use a learning model that goes beyond presentation and discussion — it includes in the mix simulation, role-play, metaphorical problems, and group processing. This gives participants the resources they need to make new, more constructive choices even in tense situations. And it's a lot more fun for everybody.

Target audience

Decision makers at all levels, including managers of global operations, sponsors of global projects, business analysts, team leads, project managers and team members.

Program duration

Available formats range from 50 minutes to one full day. The longer formats allow for more coverage or more material, more experiential content and deeper understanding of issues specific to audience experience.

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