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Conflicts : Why Should I Care? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Corina Mihaela Paraschiv   
Tuesday, 19 February 2008 18:29

         After its first year of existence, our Rotaract Club was facing a crisis; the members of the club complained that projects didn't launch and that schedules were never met.  The president argued back that we simply did not have enough resources to make it on time with that many projects.  Other members argued that without diversity in the choices of projects, no one would join the club in the first place.  Some signed a petition saying the president had too much of an autoritary style while others in the management recognized a democracy slowed down decision making and that views were too scattered for people to reach a concensus on many levels.  The club was not doing well and because of poor conflict management skills on all sides, the club almost fell appart.  Well folks, wise up, because there are winning ways to handle situations like that.


Leadership Makes All the Difference 

             In his book,  Mark Gerzon distnguishes between three types of leaders.  There are those who lead by appealing to the fears and anxieties of those they lead, and they represent everything we do not like in leadership.  History is filled with them.   

            Then, there is the more common one, managers.  Managers are often trained in schools and in their companies to do their job and nothing else.  Especially in big corporations, where tasks are well defined and there is no stepping over, this kind of leader thrives. 


            And then there is the kind that, according to Gerzon, we need most right now (with globalization and diversity in the workplace), and those are the mediators.   In an interview, Gerzon explains that mediators “know how to do their own job, but also know how to cross over to the other community, department, company and say 'let's build a bridge'.  One of the skills of mediators is creativity – that is, seeing hidden connections between areas, processes.” 


Conflict?  What Conflict?!


So the first year we got through our arguments and managed to strike some kind of balance between the variety of projects we had and the number of members willing to work on each project.  But then we grew into another era, and that is the era where no one ever really disagreed.  The president would suggest something, would call up on a meeting, discuss it with everyone, assigne tasks, people agreed... and nothing got done.  That is another kind of conflict, Gerzon explains :  “when someone doesn't like xyz person and decides they simply won't go to their meeting, or when he listens to his boss, says yes and then walks away and does whatever he wants”.  Those conflicts are what we call cold conflicts, and they can provide great opportunities if they are handled correctly.  The same way that you would want to cool down a very heated argument, you would want to warm up a cold conflict – have people start talking to each other and recognizing there is an issue.  And the problem is that it is not enough for one person in your club to know this.  We have a position in our club called “membership”, who is basically in charge of mediating, of making sure everyone is happy.  That is a little bit the equivalent of companies which outsource conflict resolution by hiring someone from outside. The ideal Rotarat Club though would strive to have each and every member – or at the very least each project director, be a mediator, because who better to take care of a problem than the people concerned by it?  Surprisingly enough – and although it does require some interest and training on the behalf of the club – the conflict resolution skills for leaders are accessible to each and every club.  Gerzon enumerated eigth different skills to solve conflicts – we've explored them with other literature to discover just how to make the best of conflicts.



8 Leadership Tools to Tackle Conflict

1. Integral vision
2. System thinking
3. Presence
4. Inquiry
5. Conscious conversation

6. Bridging

7. Innovation

8. Dialogue


            Inquiry is crutial to any group – it means how good you are at asking the right questions.  Have you notticed how most of the time when we fight – be it a hot or a cold conflict – everyone just assumes they are right in their position?  A lot of hostility is built up because people simply fight for being right and no one takes the time anymore to ask questions.  When questions do get asked, it is often not with a acknowledgement that the people asking it do not know the answer, they are more lead-up questions to get to a point.  You will find out that when people working together approach conflicts with a learning outcome in mind, the nature of the conflict changes.  Asking questions is hard because sometimes when you ask an open question and find that things do need to get changed, you end up with a call to action.  But you must remember that, as we've seen with cold conflicts, a simple “yes” in agreement with what you think should be done only means agreement – not commitment. 


            Once you ask questions, you can then open conversations.  Now there is something interesting about how our club runs its meetings.  Whenever I write the agenda, I jot down the points we will discuss, then we meet, and nobody has got the foggiest idea of what they will be required to do.  That is because the agenda should really be more specific; it should address items in terms not only of the content but also of the format; is the goal of your meeting to discuss ideas, to brainstorm, to negociate something, to debate an issue, to take a collective decision, to merely present to others a new decision from the executives of the club?   Remember you get commitment, and commitment becomes greater when people understand how they have a chance of being involved during the club's meeting. 


            Another skill now to be tackled is the “Integral Vision”.  As we've mentioned before, the main difference between a mediator and a manager is that the manager sticks to his project only while the mediator has a good understanding of how to cross over to other projects too;  they don't see the local service project as the only component they are in charge of, but rather how it fits in with the international service project, the socials of the club, the vocational service workshops and the management of the entire club in general (recruitement, retention, running general meetings, etc.).    Too often – an our club is the first victim of this – members think it is not their problem to worry about the entire club.  They point to the President to that.  After all, it's the President's job to know how the club fits with the others within the district and how all the club activities fit together.  Yet if everyone in the club had the big picture in mind, then there would be less conflicts because people would understand the priorities of management better, they would understand how their actions impact the club in general and they would be able to step up and link up whatever they are doing to other ongoing projects or activities – that is the notion of bridging.  It helps the president – and the club – to align the visions and interests of the members with that of the club and it makes for more coherent decision-making.  A club is more than the sum of activities it runs. 

This “big picture” philosophy is part of what we call Systems Thinking, in consultancy.   When you see the entire club (that is what in the management jargon is called a “system”), the club members can effectively choose solutions that will be a best fit for the entire context – not just for one project or another.  This is the idea of leveraging : using resources in a way that amplifies the impact because it solves several things at once. 


If you wish to learn more about the topic of systems thinking, an actual seven-step process has been identified by Professor Peter Checkland and part the process can be assisted by free software like Consideo and Forio if your club works with IT tools in its management.  




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