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Touching Frogs

Dealing with and solving conflicts

Social diversity is becoming increasingly important but at the same time, so are the demands placed on people in terms of how to deal with the different nature of groups and individuals. As a result, society and people in the work environment face increasing challenges and the potential for conflicts to flare up is rising. The experts at Communication Culture.Conflict Control, the Steinbeis Consulting Center, outline constructive ways to deal with this.

Increasing complexity fueled by digital transformation, technical developments, and globalization, but also changes in demographic structures, are accelerating the rate of change in the world of work – and this holds a great deal of conflict potential. As a result, it is vital to find constructive ways of dealing with conflict. Over the past 25 years, there have been dramatic changes in the approach taken by companies to deal with conflict: Rather than make decisions behind closed doors, firms now seek consensus. The different parties involved in a conflict do not always achieve this without support, so it makes sense to turn to an external mediator. This way, the parties involved in a conflict can resolve their differences themselves and are supported by a neutral intermediary, or mediator. The job of the mediator is to guide and structure discussion. Each party to the discussion is given a chance to present his or her point of view and position, and perhaps most importantly their point of interest. The focus switches from what happened in the past to the future. Win-win solutions become possible, because every solved conflict strengthens not only individual workers, but also their sense of connection to the company.

Conflicts can be seen like frogs – they’re not the sort of thing people want to come into contact with. But this is precisely what is increasingly necessary, since unresolved conflicts are a burden for organizations on a number of levels. If something isn’t running smoothly, managers increasingly feel under pressure, not just in terms of time but also on a physical level, and this can leave them feeling overloaded. People also perform much worse in terms of concentrating on factual issues – output deteriorates sharply. Latent dissatisfaction among staff leads to high levels of staff fluctuation, which in turn lead to correspondingly high outlays on recruiting replacements. Conflicts also have a negative effect on customer relationships, and this sometimes causes contracts to be lost.

Often, quick intervention is needed to get people working again. And this means someone will have to “touch the frog.” A key task of a manager is thus to act as an enabler of conflict management, and one attribute that bolsters this competence and is indispensable for a leader is to stand above things and remain calm.

Whether it would be good for a manager or a team to receive coaching on conflicts can be decided after analyzing the level of escalation and the number of people involved. The earlier a conflict is picked up on, the easier it usually is to solve it. This is why it makes sense to introduce conflict management processes at companies. Central to a systematic approach to dealing with conflicts are trained workers (the communicators), and these act as the first port of call at the company. It’s important that several people are trained as communicators, not just in different departments but also on different levels of the hierarchy, so that people affected by a conflict can choose whom they wish to confide in. Communicators can be approached at any time and they work confidentially. This makes it possible to capture and solve conflicts before things escalate, even if someone is scared of speaking to the next up in line. The communicators simply solve conflicts themselves or point them in the right direction: conflict coaching or mediation.

Conflicts are unpleasant, but they release energy and create momentum and this can result in new ideas at a company. With the right conflict management system, this energy can be exploited and put to positive use. After all, it’s not the conflict that is the problem, but how it’s dealt with. And dealing with conflicts by focusing on solutions improves corporate culture and safeguards the future of a company.