This article continues with "4 Types of Workplace Conflicts You Need To Know To Deal With Them (Part 1)"
A disagreement over how to carry out a project or task, the means or process you use to reach your goal. This includes differences on:
• The best tactic for reaching a quarterly target
• How to implement a new HR policy
• How decisions should be made in a meeting
• How quickly a project should be completed
• Who should be consulted and included as the project is carried out
Process disagreements are easily confused with task conflicts. You think you’re arguing over the outcome when really you can’t agree on how to make a decision. For example, you might get locked into a battle with a coworker over the right strategy for a new project when what you need to settle is not the specific tactic but who gets to make the final call. Or you think the company should do customer research first and a coworker thinks it should get a good-enough product out in the market and see what happens.
At TechCorp, finance thinks that the group should come up with a proposal for the new feature that everyone can agree on, but marketing is lobbying to take a vote and let the majority rule. Marketing is also at odds with the engineers because they think they should conduct customer focus groups throughout the course of development, starting as soon as possible, while the engineers think they should wait until they have an internally approved prototype. None of the three functions agrees on the timeline for completing the project—in time for an important trade show or within the fiscal year.
The benefits of managing it well
Disagreements over how to get something done can help bring about process improvements or unearth hidden benefits. A good way to come up with several viable options, Hughes suggests, is to ask, “What other ways can we imagine meeting our goals?” and then allow your team to offer answers. “People tend to frame things in an unnecessary binary fashion: should we do this or that, but there’s almost always a third or fourth way as well,” he says. It’s natural for finance to lobby for production schedules that align with fiscal year milestones. But discussing the timing with the entire group reveals a critical trade show date, reminds the group of key fiscal-year dates, and allows everyone to share their own team’s schedule and resource constraints. As with task conflict, process confl ict can improve results by drawing on the expertise of the whole group.
A disagreement over who’s in charge or who deserves credit for the work. For example, you think you should be leading an initiative, while your worker thinks he should. It can also include:
• Jockeying for leadership, especially in a team without a formal or designated leader
• Competing to run a high-profi le project
• Arguing over or dominating shared resources
• Competing for status symbols, such as the corner office, the latest technology, or having an administrative assistant
The SVP of engineering at TechCorp and the SVP of new product development are going head to head over which one of them should lead the group that’s designing the new feature. In an effort to gain an advantage in this horse race, when the senior leaders congratulate the team on the work so far, the SVP of engineering credits the long hours his group put in, while the SVP of new product development claims it was her team’s brainstorming sessions and market research that led to the concept for the snazzy new feature.
The benefits of managing it well
When a status conflict is resolved, there’s clarity for the team and anyone working with them. “A clear status hierarchy is efficient in that everyone knows his or her role and responsibility,” says Brett. This makes it easier to coordinate work and get things done smoothly. “In stable social hierarchies, lower-status individuals defer to those with higher status, and higher-status individuals look out for the welfare of lower-status ones. At least that is how it is supposed to work,” she says.
It bears repeating that it’s rare to have a conflict that fits neatly into just one of these categories. Often, as the TechCorp example shows, disagreements have elements of all four, and many that start as another type end up as relationship conflicts. Separating out each type cuts through the noise of the conflict to what’s really at hand. Instead of a morass of disagreements, you have an organized list of issues to resolve. “Finding the root causes helps you get into problem-solving mode,” says Hughes. “It doesn’t automatically solve everything. It’s not like the heavens open and the angels sing and the conflict is over. But it does make it easier to resolve.” No matter what kind of conflict you’re having—or if your conflict is a mess of all four types—you aren’t stuck. You have options for moving forward.