3 min read
15 Apr

(This article is an excerpt from my book "Dangerous Magic", available on Amazon, via the publisher (Paradigm Media) or from myself directly)

Human conflict underlies every facet of modern business practice - from commercial negotiation, staff and team motivation, leadership, competition, business management and everything in between. Even though this is demonstrably so, few South African business leaders really study this crucial skillset. The causes and triggers of conflict, unresolved or unnoticed conflicts, or the miscalculation and mismanagement of workplace conflict causes South African businesses millions of Rands every year, in direct fines, adverse CCMA or Labour Court outcomes, poor staff retention, team underperformance, absenteeism and many other preventable, measurable and manageable conflict causes. 

What can the busy and focused business leader then practically do to become conflict competent, either as an individual or to extend that skill to her or his business environment and teams? Let us consider a few practical and already existing solutions. 

These strategies are all user-controlled, modular and can be tailor-made for the most specific individual, business or brand requirements. 

Some practical considerations to become conflict competent 

  • Acquiring conflict skills adequate to your business or personal requirements is of course an important first step. Conflict coaching, the design and implementation of personal or team programs, and the necessary transference of these skills to relevant people or departments must be carefully designed and implemented as a point of departure. This should however not be a box ticking exercise, but one that is designed into the very essence and spirit of the corporation. Care must be taken to make this conflict competency a part of the very culture of at least senior management. Any existing organizational obstacles to the inculcation of such a conflict competency culture should be established and resolved.

  • Design this company conflict culture to be dynamic and flexible. If this is done correctly every conflict event will act as a stimulus to personal and organizational improvement, to a monitoring and upgrading of systems and processes, and every conflict event will bring an advantage to the business. Start using some of the modern conflict best practices such as conflict mapping, DSD and team coaching to give your business a measurable edge in workplace competition, commercial negotiation and interpersonal conflict. Make these habits and processes an intrinsic part of your business practices.

  • Find your own level of confidence and comfort with training and coaching. Within an organization these competency levels can be gauged and monitored rather easily, as they should be aligned with management goals and results, but on a personal level there is more scope for the occasional blind spot or area of resistance, such as conflict avoidance. If necessary, let a conflict professional or even a colleague assist you with your personal profile as far as conflict is concerned, and design your conflict program from there.

  • Approach workplace conflict as holistically as possible. Traditional approaches to these conflicts seek to reduce workplace conflicts to issues such as wages, profits, us and them. Even a moderate level of conflict competency will teach you the intense psychological and neurobiological causes and triggers of conflict, and will both make you more proficient in dealing with conflict and also how to see these conflicts as a comprehensive human experience. This has positive outcomes as far as certain consequences and risks not always associated with workplace conflicts, such as motivation, self-worth, energy levels, performance and so on. An adequate level of conflict training should also put you in greater control of your emotions, which is a component of the conflict confidence goal. Proficiency at workplace conflict of course also spills over into personal conflict competency, a skill that is always handy to have around. Begin to see conflict as an asset.

  • Set up sufficient organizational reminders and structures to ensure ongoing upgrading and improvement of your company’s conflict competency structures. This will keep you on the cutting edge of local and global best practices. See if it possible to remove this from the control of a single person, so that continuity and a guaranteed sharp focus can be ensured.

  • Make conflict competency a valued skill, not another management enforced fad, with this advanced understanding becoming as much a part of existing systems and procedures as deemed necessary. An HR practitioner, for example, should become conflict competent as a natural and organic consequence of her work requirement and best performance considerations, not as another management whim or improvement program.

  • Try to raise the conflict literacy of the company as high as possible, through ongoing and department appropriate conflict programs, workshops and a pervasive culture where such conflict competency is rewarded or acknowledged. Imagine the benefits to your business if people are able to efficiently resolve their more minor conflicts with each other, where respect and dignity can be a hallmark of conflicts, and where not every real or imagined slight turns into an extensive drama that involves several other parties.

  • If you regard it as appropriate, consider enabling select staff members to become conflict competent as (amongst other goals) an aid in their personal lives as well. South Africa is beset by a dizzying range of conflicts, most of which impact the everyday citizen, and where conflict competency can be a crucial life skill. Here, maybe even more than in other instances, even a simple level of conflict competency learned at the workplace can have very real, very positive benefits for employees.

If you run a business, or are involved in management level decisions, consider and investigate the obvious benefits of the Dispute System Design (DSD) option to bring conflict competence to individuals, teams and workplaces (see Chapter 9 of the book).

The modern business leader needs every edge that can be obtained in order to survive and thrive in today's business environment. Conflict competency leads to conflict confidence - the start of new possibilities, new levels of performance and excellence in that environment. 

Andre Vlok 


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