Dr Mark Fotohabadi is a hands-on serial entrepreneur (Publisher of ADR Times), and pragmatic educator (CSUF Business School).
As entrepreneurs, we’re often regarded as visionaries, strategists and business leaders capable of turning ideas into realities. Depending on the structure of the organization, layers and layers of complexity are added to that mix, and each of us is tasked with a myriad of roles and responsibilities, with specific key performance indicators (KPIs) tied to each.
While desired results come from our organizations’ cultural dynamics, our greatest asset is our human capital. In turn, every business leader’s greatest challenges are anticipating problems, mobilizing resources and effectively solving them to prevent unnecessary disruptions to that culture.
Imagine a typical work environment where people are focused on the task at hand to achieve their organization’s ultimate vision and how inevitable it is that some form of friction or conflict will arise. When people’s personalities, assumptions, histories and cultures occupy the same space (or remote spaces, in light of the pandemic), it is inevitable that they will sometimes clash.
Every workplace is different and every conflict is unique. However, over the years, we’ve developed a five-prong approach to recognize, research (or reconnaissance), resolve, restore and realize shared outcomes, which may prove useful to you as well.
Conflict is inevitable. Sooner or later, you’ll be confronted with a challenge of sorts that needs to be addressed, whether external (customers, suppliers, investors, etc.) or internal (employees, managers, executives, etc.), simple or complex.
Ideally, you’re prepared to identify potential conflicts before they develop and, absent of having a risk manager on board, you can explore potential risks, engage in effective analysis, mitigation and planning, and develop a risk response plan.
To proactively manage risk, you’ll need to be able to fully grasp the situation at hand, which can be done through research (or reconnaissance).
2. Research (Or Reconnaissance)
As any successful mediator would tell you, resolving conflict is only half the battle — the latter half. The first half is preparing for the session, whether that’s a casual conversation with the disgruntled parties, a mediation (also known as a “facilitated negotiation”), arbitration or even a formal legal proceeding.
To prepare for that session and to gather “intel,” you can either take a proactive approach or a reactive one. A proactive approach would entail some degree of due diligence on your part — researching the case, context, clients, conflict, culture, etc. and getting as creative as possible (mystery shopper model, etc.).
A reactive approach would be to receive confidential case briefs from all sides, anticipate reports from your human resources personnel, listen for unfiltered office chatter and to welcome any information tidbits that may come your way.
With that preliminary intelligence gathered (reconnaissance), you should then contemplate how (and to what degree) to apply and/or withhold that knowledge relative to time.
Conflict is an everyday fact of personal and professional life. Company politics, employee issues and customer dissatisfaction are all potential sources of conflict.
As a business leader, your role is to leverage early conflict prevention and resolution methods — similar to what impartial mediators would use — to skillfully de-escalate tense situations early, affording all sides an equal opportunity to be heard (confidentially), and then crafting an actionable resolution to help diffuse the conflict altogether.
Even after a resolution is reached, it usually is not the end of the conflict. More often than not, the participating parties will return to the workplace and bring with them any unresolved emotional, historical or behavioral issues. These are often intangible items that do not make it to the resolution “on paper.”
Your mission is to serve the parties in their effort to rebuild peace and inspiration in an environment where distrust and fear may have once been the norm. Only then will there be an opportunity to mend relationships and restore trust.
In order to realize a harmonious and empowered organizational culture that supports the best interests of all involved, there’s a more urgent need to leverage this five-prong approach to prevent and manage workplace disputes from the top-down.
In other words, when conflict is addressed at the early, informal stage, there is great potential for minimizing the tangible and intangible costs associated with it. Ultimately, when the conflict is addressed after the point of impact, there is a stronger possibility to create a workplace and organizational culture where employees and all other stakeholders are empowered and inspired to reach optimal performance benchmarks under your leadership.