How to deal with conflict constructively

How to deal with conflict constructively
Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively
by Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; Hardcover; $32.99 (CAN)

Authors Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan wrote their new book,  Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively, after discovering that conflict is the number one topic of new leaders in surveys of participants in training programs, like theirs at Eckerd College, which is connected with the Center for Creative Leadership.

The first few chapters of Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader remind us that conflict is due to individual differences that are incompatible. And that conflict is expensive. Most program participants are surprised at how much conflict costs when they do  systematic assessments of their own workplaces with the Dana Measure of Financial Cost of Organizational Conflict.

Runde and Flanagan explain that leaders are more successful at dealing with conflict when they have self-awareness and self-control. Tests like Myers-Briggs and the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory, help new leaders determine their preferred problem solving and decision making styles. Other tests apply more  directly to conflict situations. These tests help leaders improve their self-awareness of conflict situations in terms of the triggers and hot-buttons that propel them to enter conflicts, their preferred conflict styles, and the behaviors that they tend to use in a conflict. Further discussion in Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader, describes how leaders can improve their self-control in conflict situations with this new awareness of their triggers, conflict styles, and behaviors.

The book introduces the Dynamic Conflict Model, which is a systems approach to understanding conflict. In the model, a precipitating event leads to conflict. The conflict then leads to either a constructive or a destructive response. The constructive conflict encompasses behaviors that focus on the task at hand and keep conflict to a minimum; the destructive conflict has behaviors that focus on personalities and escalate and prolong conflicts.

Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader also focuses on teaching leaders how to decrease their use of destructive responses, as well as on how to increase the use of constructive responses. Active destructive acts are: winning at all costs, displaying anger, and demeaning others; passive destructive acts are: avoiding, yielding, and hiding emotions. On the other hand, leaders who have constructive responses are critical of ideas, not people; focus on best outcomes rather than winning; and listen to others' ideas. Constructive responses transform polarization into civility, discord into dialog, and differences into innovation.

The final chapter of Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader promotes the building of conflict competence in an organization. Research supports the need for an Integrated conflict management system in each firm: the strategies used in organizations to resolve conflict are related to the ways that the leaders view conflict - for example, an organization is more likely to adopt a collaborative approach to resolving conflict when the leader sees conflict as an opportunity for both sides to gain.

Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader is a well-written, pragmatic approach for understanding conflicts. The overall goal is to enlarge the pie and have win-win situations.

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Patrick Buckley is a freelance writer and computer systems analyst based in Ottawa. He can be reached at [email protected]