Feb 5, 2020
It's no strange fact that differences abound in any organization. Even a tightly-knit company culture is made up of individuals who each have a unique perspective and point of view. Too often, these differences turn into stressful situations and broken teamwork. What can be done to make the impossible possible and transform how we view these differences?
The phrase "conflict management" represents an outdated way of thinking. After all, what is it we're trying to reach here? Agreement. It's time to call this approach by a new name: s: managing agreements.
How does safety leadership take this approach seriously? Here are some helpful steps.
Begin with identifying the groups within your organization most likely to have conflicting goals and objectives. This could be marketing and operations or management and workers, for example. Get these various groupings together and truly have an open dialogue about those differences. By fostering an open, inclusive conversation, everyone can gain a new perspective on the entire organization. Brainstorm new ways of finding solidarity in common goals. Be proactive and disruptive. Many new agreements can be transformed from old conflicts.
We all know that individuals and groups within organizations often see things differently, have different perspectives or possess different information. Further, we know that these differences can be the source of tension, stress, and ineffective teamwork within the organization. So, it’s in the organization’s interest to stay abreast of and address these differences as much as possible. I’ve always wondered, though, why this process is called “conflict management.” After all, isn’t the thing we’re trying to “manage” actually agreement? Shouldn’t our approach be founded on a spirit of agreement management?
Lest you think I’m getting caught up in semantics, let me relate a story that I was a part of several years ago. A client’s plant experienced an increase of employee lost time because of back and leg strains. The plant manager sought to address this issue by developing an edict: No employee to lift or even plan to lift anything that weighed 55 pounds or more. The plant’s union leaders laughed at the new policy, telling the plant manager that it was unenforceable. Further, they told him that if he was obtuse enough to attempt to enforce it, they’d file grievance after grievance. The plant manager insisted that it was managements’ prerogative to establish such employee regulations and that employees found to be ignoring the edict would be disciplined. At that point, there was, indeed, lots of conflict to manage. But what if management hadn’t felt the need to resort to “policy” based on an assumption that employees would disagree with management’s goals to reduce worker injuries and would resist any behavior change unless consequences were brought to bear? What if, instead, management assumed that it and the union had common ground and just needed to manage agreement?
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