We all want to prevent conflict, and avoid getting hurt. It’s great to work in a place where people trust you to get on with your job. We like bosses who leave us to it and praise us, not those who criticise. Most of us dislike paperwork and bureaucracy. Yet so often, the organisations with lovely bosses are crippled by unresolved disagreements, working around awkward people or carrying poor performers.
Small businesses, charities and social enterprises suffer especially from this, as do the caring professions. Everyone assumes that commitment and shared strong values mean there will be no conflict. And it is not the pressure of money or failure that most often causes problems. Oddly enough, conflict often arises just when things are going well or the organisation grows. In my work as a mediator, it grieves me that so much of this pain and distress is unnecessary.
So what can we do to prevent conflict — or at least minimize the damage?
To prevent conflict, you have to see it as a possibility
Caring people don’t like the word conflict, as to them, it means all out war.This video defines conflict as unmet needs. Disagreements and different interests will arise in any group of people, regardless of how lovely, how committed or how moral they are. Without recognising the inevitability of this, people feel ashamed of disagreements and conflict and bottle them up. (For more on why you shouldn’t suppress conflict, see this)
Ask for what you need
Caring professionals assume that others should see their needs because they naturally see and meet the needs of others. They find it hard to ask for help because they define themselves as carers. Gradually, bitterness and resentment set in as they give more than they want to. ( Download Asking for help or read more on asking for help)
Clarify roles and expectations
I deal with many situations where conflict and resentment have grown because roles are not clearly defined. Most small enterprises have grown organically, with people taking on roles that suit them. But as the organisation grows and the environment changes, roles become blurred. Before this causes problems, look at whether it still makes sense to do what you are doing. Make sure everyone is clear on their responsibilities and roles. Craig Dearden Phillips book, Your Chance to Change The World describes the changes organisations go through. His great tips are relevant to all small organisations, not just the third sector.
Yes, I know you don’t like talking about unpleasant things. And it is much more comfortable to tuck our heads under the duvet and assume that people will sort it out. Even the most sensible and kindest people need help managing relationships. I mediated in a long-running dispute between two senior staff. The chairman had spent most of his time appeasing or placating one or the other. Neither of them felt appreciated despite the bonuses, titles and perks the chairman had used to calm them down. One said to me, “It was only when they called in a mediator that I felt appreciated.” (More on this here)
Often all you need to do is ask and listen. Take it seriously. If you need help, give me a call 07980 920078. I specialise in working with small organisations with strong values.