Conflict Is Like an Iceberg: It Can Sink You!

Are you resolving conflicts for good—or do they keep coming back?

Workplace Conflict

In her AudioSolutionz webinar, “Tackle Workplace Conflict: Difficult People, Disagreements & Stressful Situations,” executive coach and management consultant Marcia Zidle arms attendees with the practical skills to confront discord and greatly advance leadership skills—so that you’re less likely to back away from problems that deserve your attention.

In a recent program on conflict resolution for the marketing department of a health care company, I asked the following.

  1. Can you describe the conflicts that occur most often?
  2. What could be possible reasons for these disagreements?
  3. How these conflicts are usually resolved? Or they keep coming back?

As you would expect, this generated a lot of conversation. I had set the expectations of open discussion without finger pointing or blaming. I used the idea of an iceberg to help people think about conflict in a positive, problem-solving way

Above the water line are the “Symptoms” – For example:

  • Forgetting
  • Chronic lateness
  • Dragging one’s feet
  • Not paying attention
  • Rolling eyes, whispering, put-downs
  • Others than I’m sure you can come up with.

Below the water line are the “Real Causes” – Here are six:

  1. Perceptual Differences: Seeing things differently.

A common example is when two people can view the same event (in a crime TV drama witnesses to a robbery) and have different perceptions (It was a tall guy with glasses; no it was short with a baseball cap, etc.)

  1. Informational Differences: Having different facts or understanding.

The parable of the blind men and the elephant illustrates this. Briefly, six blind men wanted to know what an elephant was like. So they went to find one and when they did, each touched a different part of the elephant. Of course, each had a different impression.

  1. Procedural Differences: Having different ways of doing thing.

How do you start a puzzle? From number 1 and go systematically? Or start anywhere you can and work from there? Is one way better than another? It depends.

  1. Goals Differences: Disagreeing about priorities and importance.

In many companies, sales and marketing is driven by quotas – getting more customers; production by quality – making sure it meets specific standards.The conflict arises when one group has expectations of what’s important that don’t coincide with the other group.

  1. Role Based Differences: Disagreeing about responsibility and accountability.

Who does what? It’s your job; not it’s yours; I make the decision; no I do. This happens a lot regarding line and staff authority; or corporate vs business units.

  1. Personality Differences: Behaving and communicating in different ways.

Someone is a quick, shoots from the hip decision maker and the other is slower, more methodical. Or someone is task focused, and wants you to get to the point fast and the other likes to talk about all kinds of things before getting down to business.

What Was Causing the Most Departmental Conflict?

It was role based differences. There was lack of clarity as to who’s accountable for monitoring deadlines as well as who has final authority on marketing collateral and a whole range of other issues.

What are the main conflicts you’re experiencing? How are you resolving them?

What Was the Solution?

I introduced Steven Covey’s model of Circle of Influence and had them focus on what they could influence. There were several suggestions: taking responsibility to ask questions and verify client’s expectations; using less email and more personal communication with other departments; and to get clarification and support from management as to the department’s responsibilities and authority.

Smart Moves Tip:

Conflict is inherent in our differences—in people’s differing backgrounds, perspectives, values, needs, goals, expectations, etc. Conflict by itself is neither good nor bad. It’s the way we manage conflict that produces constructive or destructive results.

Did You Know That a New Kind of SMARTS is Needed?

75% of leaders are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including inability to handle interpersonal problems, unsatisfactory team leadership during times of difficulty or conflict; or inability to adapt to change or elicit trust. – Center for Creative Leadership.

Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission of the author. In her webinar, Zidle shows you how to turn disagreements into positive outcomes by honing your abilities to: solve problems, communicate clearly, better understand others’ points of view, and think creatively.

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Marcia Zidle
About Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle is a board certified executive coach, business management consultant and keynote speaker, who helps entrepreneurial ventures, small- to medium-size enterprises, and professional firms to leverage their leadership and human capital assets. She has 25 years of management, business consulting and international experience in a variety of industries including health care, financial services, oil and gas, manufacturing, insurance, pharmaceuticals, hospitality, government and nonprofits.