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Managing Conflict

The workplace can be a stressful environment. Personality differences, team dynamics, budget constraints, technology issues, achieving business alignment and customer satisfaction are all contributing factors to this stress. Conflict inevitably arises. I recently attended an ITSM Leadership workshop and realized that conflict is not negative nor something that we should avoid. As IT Service Management leaders we must understand that our stakeholders often have a different set of concerns and issues. There will be varied opinions on the right way to implement service management. In our goal of effective leadership it is important to solicit and listen to differing opinions. We have to embrace our differences, work through the issues and implement strategies to limit the negative aspects of conflict. Conflict can actually be valuable to an organization. It is in the effective management of this conflict that our teams can be made stronger, our relationships with our customers improved and our organizational performance enhanced.

Dr. David G. Javitch, an organizational psychologist, has defined the following 10 positive steps leaders take to manage conflict:

  1. Realize that conflict is natural and happens all the time.
  2. Stress the positive aspects of conflict; just because tension arises, the world is not going to collapse. In fact, if handled well, conflict often leads to innovation.
  3. Realize that conflict can be handled in a positive way that leads to personal and professional growth, development and productivity.
  4. Encourage others to bring up conflict and differences. Allowing them to fester inevitably encourages them to erupt later, usually at a most inopportune time.
  5. Identify the root cause(s) of the conflict. You can't begin to unravel the potential negativity in conflict and look toward progress until you determine the source of the issue.
  6. Look at the issue from all sides. Inspect the positive and negative factors that each party sees to fully comprehend what is at stake.
  7. Devise a complete list of actions to address the issue; ensure that each party believes that he/she has had input in the final product or decision.
  8. Decide on the step that best addresses and resolves the issue. Again, all parties need to see that they have had input into this step.
  9. Agree on whatever next steps are necessary to implement the mutually agreed upon action.
  10. Review the process that you used to arrive at the final decision, hoping to implement a similar successful plan when negative conflict next arises.
An effective ITSM leader is willing to address spoken and unspoken negative tension, embrace productive conflict, resolve unproductive behaviors and help transform their organization.

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