Beyond Win-Win Solutions That Put the Organization First

What immediately comes to mind when you think of conflict in organizations? Usually people answer with some notion of unpleasant disagreements between employees. We define it somewhat differently -- issues that must be resolved in order to reach organizational capacity. This definition goes beyond win-win and puts the organization's needs first and the individuals differences second.

Sometimes solutions that appear to be win-win are best for the employees involved but are not necessarily in the organization's best interest. Employees who are able to sacrifice their own needs for the good of the organization gain true respect and are seen as being great team players with high integrity.

Research from multiple studies show that when employees effectively resolve conflict and build trust, the organization has higher productivity, less legal and transactional costs, higher quality, higher job satisfaction ratings, more responsive virtual teams, more strategic alliances, effective crisis management, increased innovation, less bureaucratic and administrative expenditures, more creative solutions to problems, higher retention rates and more open communication. If disputes can be resolved in a constructive manner, employees find they can share responsibility for problems, find more creative and unexpected solutions, and search for outcomes that go beyond win-win to realize solutions that benefit the entire company. Moreover, employees learn to build confidence so future problems can be effectively dealt with. Ultimately, not only the bottom line will improve, but making this investment in human capital will lead to an overall improvement in the quality of the workplace.

When conflict results in destructive outcomes contracts don't get signed, orders do not get filled, quality suffers, and employees leave. Poorly managed conflicts result in damaged relationship between employees, wasted time and money, and often more conflict. While poor leadership slowly corrodes a company, the impact of conflict is more dramatic, direct and immediate. Unresolved conflict can literally destroy this quarter's business results.

Fortunately, conflict management is a skill and those who are highly skilled can often influence outcomes.  Learning to develop this skill starts with awareness of the behaviors that will most likely lead to a positive resolution. When employees learn these skills they can often move beyond the win-win paradigm, and achieve not only what is good for each party but also outcomes that truly benefit the organization.

A Conflict Lens analysis of over 6000 real workplace conflicts worldwide showed that the following behaviors are the best predictors for a positive outcome. In short, paying attention to the relationship first and the issue second will lead to the most constructive outcomes.

1. Self-restraint.  Maintain control of emotional expressions.  Approach the conflict in a calm rational manner.

2. Trust between the parties has the highest correlation with positive outcomes.  If there is not a significant amount of trust it is extremely difficult to resolve conflict constructively.

3. Engage in the conflict and don't avoid the hard issues.  This involves openly acknowledging that a problem exists and making a commitment to solve it.

4. Affiliate with the other parties in the conflict. Be sensitive and respectful to the needs of others and expend energy trying to be tactful in how you present your views.

5. Empathize with the other person's point of view. Discover not just what the other person's views are but the logic and rationale behind their perspectives.

Conversely, when employees see only their own perspective, avoid the hard issues, lose their temper, treat others with disrespect, and involve other parties, outcomes are usually destructive.

Our research data was collected using The Conflict Lens, an online instrument that asks employees to answer a series of questions about actual conflicts they have been involved in. It has been used in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The data regarding which behaviors lead to constructive outcomes and which lead to destructive outcomes is consistent across countries and cultures.

Professional athletes, musicians, actors and others rely on videotape to perfect their skills by observing their behavior and learning from their strengths and shortfalls. When employees receive information on which behaviors they have used in actual conflict situations and examine them with knowledge of best practices and 20/20 hindsight they are better equipped to achieve constructive outcomes.  Ultimately, this is in the best interest of the company and increases efficiency, creativity, profit and morale.

Dealing with conflict....made easy.

The Conflict LensTM is an on-line instrument, a model and a process for helping people develop better communication strategies for managing conflict. Available in 19 languages it has been used in North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Middle East.