Guest Column: Why Every Consultant Should Look For Conflict

Why Every Consultant Should Look For Conflict

by Christian Muntean

Conflict is a common part of our clients’ lives.

Some of our clients relate to conflict well and have frequent, constructive conversations on difficult issues.

But many don’t. Like most people, they’ve spent their entire lives experiencing conflict as a universally negative experience—one that leads to the end of a good opportunity, the end of a good relationship or a good experience.

As consultants, many of us have the same experience. Our tendency is to either avoid the issue or find a way to override it.

This approach doesn’t best serve our clients. Or ourselves.

I’d like to offer a different perspective on conflict, its cost if we don’t resolve it and principles for resolutionthat work.Most leaders and consultants tend to get distracted by the individuals who appear to be central to any given conflict. In fact, nearly all resources on conflict resolution focus on that interpersonal dynamic.

However, if our clients experience chronic or frequent conflicts, lasting change isn’t builtfrom interpersonal interventions. It is built through leadership interventions. The principles I introduce below have allowed me to enjoy an over 90% success rate in helping organizations turn conflicts around.  I go into greater depth on these in my book Conflict and Leadership.

As consultants, we should hunt out areas of client conflict (obvious or hidden) and use them as the opportunities for our client’s growth that they really are.

The Costs of Conflict

First,let’s consider the costs our clients face from conflictin their businesses:

  • An average employee spends about 3 hours of his or her week dealing with conflict. This is nearly 10% of their work week.
  • An average supervisor spends at least 20% of his or her week dealing with conflict. This is one full day per week.
  • 25% of employees report that conflict has caused themillness or to call in sick.
  • 33% of employees indicatedthat conflict has caused people to leave their company.

Pick a client past or present. Spend five minutes with a calculator and the above statistics. You’ll see that their conflict related costs are extravagant. Are they getting a return?

Additionally, the quality of the relationship between management and employees has a business impact:

  • Workers’ compensation claims increase with increased levels of conflict.
  • Employee turnover is primarily connected to relational difficulties or not feeling appreciated, not pay.
  • Some reports indicate that at least as many as 10% of projects completely failas a result of conflict.

When you consider boards or leadership teams:

  • It is difficult to find healthy, productivepeople willing to serve in unhealthy, conflict-ridden environments.
  • High performers who are constructive people will usually leave chronically unhealthy environments and go elsewhere.
  • Significant time and energy are lostdue to avoiding issues, rehashing issues, not taking action or political game playingas opposed to serving the greatestgood of the largestamount of shareholders possible.
  • Poorer decisions are madebecause the right issues aren’t discussed. An examination of prosand cons is deemed to be too challenging.

On the other hand: When people feel respected, appreciated, and they put in the effort to communicate well – they work well together.

For most companies, the single fastest way to achieve growth and increase profitability is simply to learn to work well together.

Four Principles That Will Dramatically Reduce Conflict and Increase Efficiency

  1. The Principle of Courageous Leadership:

Problems tend to grow if not resolved andwhen left on their own. There is often a tendency to want to look at problemsand point elsewhere to assign responsibility.

It often takes courage to face our ownreactions to change or conflict and to facethe reactionsof others.

If a problem exists in your client’s organization and repeats itself—it is likely in need of courageous (or bold) leadership attention. If there is anelement of “here wego again,” then regardless of where the problem expresses itself the leader needs to ensure a solution.

Courage is importantotherwise leaders tend to wait until they have to react. In those instances,they utilize anger (or fear) as their energy to create the much-needed change. Thisis damaging.

What is needed is courage.

Leaders are the only people in the position to create and sustain organizational and cultural change. So, it becomes absolutelycritical that you, as a consultant, support the leader to make courageous choices. That change may take place in one or more of these four areas:

  • Personal: Are there behaviors or attitudes that the leader could start, change or stop doing that would improve the situation?
  • Relational: Is there any place where trust or respect has broken down (or hasn’t been sufficiently built) that the leader can help improve?
  • Systemic: How are systems “running people into each other?” Most issues in the workplace can be mitigated or resolved by improving processes such as clarifying and simplifying how:
    • Decisions are made.
    • Actionis taken.
    • Information flows.
    • Roles are understood.
    • Responsibilities are defined, shared or handed off.
  • Cultural: Over time, organizational culture will reflect the values, attitudes, andbehaviors of leadership. The sphere of influence of the leaders you work with reflects themselves in some way. If there are problematicbut commonly held values, attitudes or behaviors in the organization, what needs to change and what changes can you help the leader make that will produce that change? 

Conflict provides you an opportunity to help your client grow in his or her courage – thereby increasing long term leadership impact.

  1. The Principle of Clarity:

Ambiguity breeds conflict. Bringing clarity to a situation is one of the most powerful ways that you can remove or reduce conflict.

Think of a road. If you have good lighting and signage, you are far less likely to have accidents. Take away the clarity (lights, signs, etc.), andyou’ll have problems.

Here is a short list of where clarity is needed. It is by no means exhaustive:

  • Purpose and outcomes
  • Performance expectations
  • Behavior expectations
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Deadlines
  • Decision making / Approval frameworks
  • Access to resources

Conflict helps you work with your client to identify areas of ambiguity. By clarifying them you’ll not only reduce conflicts but you’ll increase efficiency and productivity.

  1. The Principle of Alignment:

When leaders identify the “why,” the purpose (values + vision), and they organize all goals, plans, metrics, and behavior expectations underneath that “why,” then life gets much easier.

All, or at least most, activity in the organization should support the “why.” It shouldbe alignedunderneath it.

As consultants, we want to help our clients create this alignment. Then it is the leader’s role to monitor and protect it. To ensure that unaligned goals or activities are either removed, brought back into alignment or forced to justify themselves.

Leaders are usually in the best position to help reinforce alignment. Usually,no one else canstep back and get the big picture view. No one but the leader has the authority or resources to make alignmenthappen.

Conflict helps you identify where something is “out of alignment” within the organization. By bringing things back to alignment, conflict is mitigated, management loads are reduced and productivity increases.

  1. The Principle of Constancy:

People can become very excited when a leader steps forward, creates clarity, and maps out alignment.

But one of the fastest paths to discouragement happens when a ball gets dropped by a leader. It’s a quick way to lose credibility.

Helping turn a team or organization around can be an exciting and energizing process, even when there are challenges. But to be effective, leaders must be constant. They must reinforce constancy. We can help them do that.

Conflict helps you work with you client to identify leadership behaviors and practices that can be improved. When a leader improves his or her constancy, they will not only improve their organization but they will also experience greater leadership credibility and influence. Conflict helps you build a better leader.

Conflict is a growth tool

The path to reducing conflict in our client’s workplace is the same path to increase productivity and profit sustainably.

The savvy consultant will use existing conflict to identify areas of potential growth and breakthrough for a client

Christian Muntean works with successful leaders and teams to help them grow their companies. His clients include Fortune 500 companies, small and medium-sizedentrepreneurial businesses and non-profits. He is the author ofConflict and Leadership: How to Harness Conflict to Build Better Leaders and Thriving Teams.You can reach Christian at: christian@vantageconsulting.org, (907) 522-7200. www.vantageconsulting.org

Copyright © 2018 Christian Muntean. All Rights Reserved.


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