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Navigating the Turbulent Waters of Employee and Organizational Conflict

by Mike Freel, PhD on July 8, 2020

Conflict Over Troubled WatersOne of the things I often hear from leaders, regardless of what industry they are in, is that they want to know what to do about difficult employees or situations.

Invariably, it has something to do with some kind of conflict they are dealing with. And invariably, I tell them that I don’t have a silver bullet to fix their problem. When it comes to leadership, one of the things all leaders are going to have to learn is how to work with conflict situations. Unfortunately, no leader that I know of ever gets the manual on how to deal with conflict.

The fact is, conflict is everywhere within organizations and leadership. Statistically, as much as 70% of our time is spent dealing with conflict in some form or another. And conflict has plenty of causes in our organizations. Often, departmental or organizational structures can propagate conflict, not to mention skew lines of communication. Poor communication and a poor understanding of what the person on the other side of the table needs is probably the biggest cause of conflict in organizations. However, communication and understanding are also your biggest resource for resolving conflict.

What is important to remember is that conflict isn’t necessarily all that bad. In fact, without conflict, leaders are going to be stuck in the same old rut doing the things they’ve always done the same way they’ve always done them.

You heard me correctly: We need conflict. We need conflict if we are going to get better at doing anything.

Of course, we usually focus on the negative conflict because that’s what’s ingrained in us as leaders. When was the last time you saw a leadership book about conflict that had anything to do with something positive? It’s always negative: Fix something that’s broken. We look for the negativity and we react to it. That’s what leaders do, right?

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Well, not always.

As I mentioned, without conflict, we’d still be doing things the way we’ve always done them. That’s something that makes my skin crawl. We need conflict if only to expand our perspectives on any given issue. If we are always looking at a problem from the same perspective, how can we expect to do anything different?

What conflict does is allow us to look at problems from varying perspectives. This gives us a more rounded approach to any problem. It may take longer to solve the problem. It may result in knocking our heads together. But eventually, the final product is going to be better with the conflict than without it.

That’s what I really like about my upcoming webinar for the Cassling Leadership Institute. Without conflict, we can’t expect to get better at what we do. The webinar isn’t so much about how to resolve conflict as it is understanding where conflict comes from. In fact, I think this is just as important as resolving conflict. If you don’t have a good understanding of how you prefer to deal with or react to conflict, then how can you possibly engage in conflict resolution? We are going to talk about the building blocks of conflict and why it’s a necessity for us in order to do our jobs better.

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Meet the Author

Mike Freel, Ph.D., has served as a seminar speaker for Cassling’s Investing in You educational program. Mike Freel, Ph.D., is currently an Associate Professor and Program Director for Bellevue University's Master of Health Administration and Bachelor of Healthcare Management programs in the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Freel has a professional background in healthcare, as well as experience in corporate organization and employee development. He has served in several healthcare roles in the clinical and academic fields. He is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and serves on the Education Advisory Board for the Nebraska Hospital Association. He earned his Ph.D. in Human Resource Development from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where he researched emotional intelligence in clinical nurses. He has authored several publications on EI and leadership and presented on various healthcare and leadership topics for local and national conferences.

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