Conflict seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. While challenges like time management used to be our number one pain point, HR Professionals and other business leaders are filling the seats of conflict management training. A highlight of the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition (#SHRM19) is sure to be Randy Anderson’s mega session: 20 Strategies for Resolving Conflict Quickly and Effectively. Anderson, co-founder of E3 Professional Trainers, brings you practical tools to manage the struggles of a frustrated entry-level employee or the supervisors who can’t seem to work well together or the board members who just can’t get along. I interviewed Anderson to get a preview of his ideas on the best approach to this common workplace issue.
What causes workplace disagreements to escalate into conflicts?
Anderson shared that people don’t communicate at all, often waiting until it reaches a boiling point. Employees get emotionally charged with pinned up frustration. They tend to do everything, else such as emailing or posting on the intranet, before having a real conversation. He added that we can hold so firmly to the “my idea is the best idea or the only right idea” mindset that it becomes hard to compromise; it’s hard to put the best part of my idea with the best part of your idea. It boils down to a mindset of lack of compromise. Additionally, employees are so pressured for results that they become so involved in their own territory that they do not understand how a change will affect another department. He used banking as an example, saying that a vice president will fight for a new lending product while the teller manager is fighting on behalf of tellers. The change might bring in more sales but will surely add more work. While the fight may be a form of advocacy, it’s more a fight to protect our survival and our sanity.
What do HR pros share as their biggest hurdle when resolving conflict?
From Anderson’s perspective, HR feels an obligation to bring everyone together, but that’s a tall order when two people are mad. HR can be the bridge or the catalyst for collaboration. Chances are high that the best ideas will be the ones that serve the customers or employees the most. An HR pro can be the person who gets people together to facilitate dialogue and turn what could have been a heated argument into an agreement.
Is there such a thing as a conflict-free workplace?
To this, Anderson asked: How do you define conflict?
Can we have a workplace free of fighting and pettiness - yes, we can.
He added that we cannot have a constructive, progressive, winning workplace if we do not have a variety of ideas. Those ideas may conflict, so that means we’ll need to come together collectively. If you attend his mega session you will hear him say that the best way to avoid conflict- is to avoid it completely. Speaking from firsthand experience, Anderson worked for nine years in a media sales department where they were candid, competitive, open and highly successful.
What can organizations do to stop issues before they start?
Before tensions reach a boiling a point, Anderson proposes, we need to work on our general communication skills. Employees need an environment where managers give legitimate consideration to their ideas - an atmosphere of true teamwork. Employees working on a team with a high level of trust, empathy & appreciation have confidence that even when issues arise, everyone is trying to help the company. Anderson summed it up by suggesting that instead of asking what do you do after conflict arises; we should ask what did you do before?
Who should attend this session? Who will benefit?
The answer is simple: Everyone. Anderson believes in training on the simple fundamentals and it has been the basis of his organization for 14 years. This course, he says, can benefit anyone on any level, personally or professionally. This will not be a presentation filled with the latest, greatest, buzzwords. His theory is that foundations do not change. From “the dog catcher to the mayor,” we need to demonstrate how to foster a conflict-free environment.
I’m looking forward to this session. Anderson is gifted with a straightforward conversational presentation style, where he easily illustrates his ideas with his own personal experience. In our conversation, he said that sometimes people fight so hard that it is seems impossible to meet in the middle. Sadly, this is more commonplace in our world today and can certainly be true at our organizations. Whether you find yourself in conflict or as the mediator, I recommend this session for solutions to a problem that can threaten our organizations.