Conflict management requires the ability to manage or escalate conflict. To understand conflict as it pertains to leadership, we need to understand how to manage conflicts. A leader will also need to know how to escalate a conflict strategically when necessary.
So what is a conflict? A conflict is a disagreement between people, a disagreement where the people involved have differing and opposing interests and motives. Conflicts are also based on emotionality, which often times, ruins the rationality of the process. In regards to leadership, a key role of leadership is to manage conflict.
To manage the conflict, the manager must pay attention to the tension phase and the escalation phase of conflict. In the tension phase, the manager’s role is to regulate the conflict. Taking control of the situation through communication can do this. The manager should communicate to both parties, specifically, should listen to and understand the issues involved, and attempt to make the opposing viewpoints visible to both parties. In the escalation phase, there is lots of impulsivity and reactiveness. The danger for the leader is in losing authority and control of the situation. To be successful in managing in this phase, the leader will need to do various things; maintain self control, regulate their own interests, make solid decisions, retain a rational perspective, and avoid becoming part of the conflict.
And lastly, conflicts are not necessarily always to be avoided. For strategic reasons, it may be important for the leader to escalate the conflict. To understand this scenario, lets look at an example. A manager’s colleagues complain about one of the manager’s subordinates. The manager looks into the situation, and finds out that the employee in question is in fact a great performer. The complaints eventually antagonize the manager enough so that, after considering his options, the manager reacts with a strong angry counter reaction to his colleagues. This may seem unwise, however, this reaction is done out of a rational analysis, as a weak counter reaction may not be taken seriously and may not stop the problem of the complaints. Sometimes, to be effective in conflict management, it is important to be both tough and reconciliatory. These are opposing qualities; one brings calm, whereas the other prevents escalation of conflict. A leader needs the ability to show both sides.
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