Leadership Notes #63 – Conflict Resolution

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

Whenever people get together, there is possibility for conflict. Differing views, different personalities and other factors can contribute to possible conflict. As leaders, we need to know how to address possible conflict, as well as conflict that can emerge, as left unchecked it can tear a group apart. I have always been surprised that the BSA doesn’t really address conflict resolution in its training program. It’s as if they assume that we just need to get everyone around a campfire and sing “Kumbayah” and all will be well or the like. But many other organizations recognize the need to be able to handle conflict.

In my Fraternity, we included basic conflict resolution in our basic leadership course, and another course in our training sequence that used to be devoted to several leadership topics has been turned into one focused mainly on conflict resolution. This was due to the feedback from our members and their need for more on this topic. This Note is based on the material we cover on conflict in our basic level course.

So, what then is conflict? Here is a good definition: “Perceived incompatible differences that result in interference or opposition” (Robbins and Coulter).

Another interesting point about conflict is: Conflict is neither good nor bad. How we resolve the conflict makes it a positive or negative experience.

We can break it down is that conflict is the result of a difference of view/opinion, and there is an issue in resolving it. By resolving that difference, and doing so in a positive matter resolves the conflict. Failing to do so causes and continues the conflict.

To better understand conflict and how to address it, we need to look at various aspects of conflict: the types or categories of conflict and the causes of conflict. Categories of conflict are intrapersonal, interpersonal, small group, organizational, and environmental.

Intrapersonal conflict is internal conflict. It’s where someone is in conflict about what to do, as they try to balance what they want/are able to do. Many people going thru this are seen to be under pressure or stressed out. This is where planning and time management can really help.

Interpersonal conflict is between 2 people. The goals and motivations of the 2 people are different, which leads to the conflict. Change and how different people handle it can be a contributing factor. Some typical examples are conflict between officers in the group, or perhaps conflict between members who used to be friends.

Small group conflict seems pretty clear. This is conflict within a group between subgroups. Maybe small groups or cliques, perhaps committees within the group or the like. This is usually caused by lack of agreement on priorities and/or goals, hence the need for a shared vision/goal for the organization. It may grow out of intra and interpersonal conflict. A typical example might be over what the focus or purpose of a particular Venturing Crew is.

Organizational conflict is the next stage of small group, where the issues over priorities have now engulfed the whole group.

Environmental conflict might also be called intra-org conflict. Here the organization is in conflict with other organizations or the policies of the parent org or even laws. Conflict over policies or laws may be about chaffing over not being allowed to do something. This may be seen where your crew is in conflict due to BSA policies or policies of your chartering org preventing them from doing something.

Causes of conflict are often time clear: Poor communication, assumptions, different responses to change, different priorities, personal agendas before team agendas. Many of this can be handled by many of the topics we’ve covered in the past: better communication, learning to handling change, learning to prioritize, setting a vision/purpose for the group and getting a buy-in from all, time management, etc.

How then, do you resolve the conflict? Well, there are various options. We can act like a parent handling naughty children, and step in as the leader or advisor and just mandate a solution. And am sure we can all recall how well we took that sort of solution when we were kids. What is better is to come up with a collaborative resolution. Here we try to come up with a “win-win” solution, where both sides feel that came out better, are satisfied with the solution, are respected and enriched.

A simple process to handle this is called the “DUET process”. DUET stands for:

• Diagnose the conflict
• Undertake action to reach win-win
• Empathize through active listening
• Tackle the problem together

Diagnose the conflict first. What is the actual cause of the conflict? Sometimes it’s misidentified. Sometimes what we think is the cause is actually just a trigger for a long lying issue that has occurred in the past. If you just deal with the trigger event, you won’t be dealing with the actual cause of the conflict.

Undertake action to reach a win-win solution. Those involved in the conflict must be willing to come up with a resolution. You can’t proceed without that. Once you have that, then the point is to come up with a resolution in which both sides feel they have “win”, that their issues have been brought forward and they are satisfied with the solution. Too often solutions imposed from outside either leads to one side feeling they “lost” or both.

In working with the side, using “active listening” is important. This ensures that the issues are correctly understood. This, again, is an important still for any leader.

Finally, all must work to tackle the issue and come with a solution. Again, if some are not fully invested, you won’t have a true solution. And usually there will be a need for all to be engaged to ensure the causes of the conflict do not lead to further issues.

So those are some basics on conflict resolution. Going back to our recent Notes on the characteristics of the servant leader, there are several that are important, as well as leadership skills/topics that we covered in the past.

Servant Leadership Characteristics that are important here are listening, empathy, and healing.

Important skills include VISION, GOAL SETTING, PLANNING, TIME MANAGEMENT, DECISION MAKING and COMMUNICATION. Some of these skills we have already touched on in past Notes, others we will cover in future Notes or possibly revisit.