Managing conflict

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- As a commander, one of the most difficult things to do is effectively manage conflict with individuals both internal and external in your organization. Unfortunately, as a manager, if you’re going to do your job, you have no choice.

Looking back now over my career, I can recall several conflicts with people I worked with and managed. Some of the most influential subjects that attributed toward it were promotions, recognition, awards, evaluations and micromanagement to name a few. I never liked conflict so I’ve spent a considerable amount of time honing my skills to overcome it.

Here are some quick tips to practice, that should assist you with managing conflict:

Accept the inevitability. As mentioned above, just recognize that addressing it is part of the job. Just accept it for what it is. It comes with the territory.

Don’t be a conflict-avoider. Difficult interpersonal workplace problems won’t disappear by ignoring them, they’ll only get worse. Chronic conflict-avoiders will end up losing the respect of their peers and subordinates and possibly their supervisors.

Keep calm under pressure. Even when provoked, keep a close hold on your temper and stay as calm as you possibly can.

Phone a friend. When I worked in the Pentagon, my peers in other divisions were of inestimable value to me on many occasions. I never hesitated to call on them when I faced difficult conflicts. They were unfailingly an objective third party, a sounding board and a valuable source of reasonable counsel (e.g. legal office).

Document meticulously. When serious conflict occurs, as a practice, you’ll need accurate records of it. During employee performance appraisals, you’ll need clear documentation to avoid discussions dissolving into “he said/she said” disputes. If and when it’s necessary to terminate someone, you of course need detailed documentation or you may well have legal problems.

Last but not least, best not to leave bodies in your wake but to get conflicts resolved fairly, expeditiously, and move forward as constructively as you can. Get closure and move ahead; the sooner, the better.

I don’t want to give the illusion that any of this is easy. But if you can develop a consistent, rational approach to managing conflict, it can make your difficult job a lot less stressful than it would be without it!