Conflict management and change process

December 4, 2017

Change Process

Over recent weeks, I have discussed several techniques for leading a team through the process of change. For example, we have looked at areas such as Gestalt psychology and Appreciative Inquiry, which help you foster trust, acceptance and participation in the change process and so reduce the need for conflict management.

While all of these methods can help to improve buy-in and make the change process one that is positive and painless, none of them offer a one-size-fits-all solution. Making things easier does not mean completely eliminating all obstacles, and even if you follow the best management theories, you will still encounter resistance and conflict from some quarters.

Today, let’s deal with these head-on with some tips for conflict management during times of organisational change.

1) Choose your battles

You can adopt all the right strategic approaches, but there will still be some individuals who are so entrenched in what they are doing that they will refuse to accept change, no matter how logical. There is a common conception that if it comes down to it, as a manager, you have no choice but to “pull rank” and lay down the law. There are undoubtedly times when this is true, and you have to take a “my way or the highway” approach, but be careful. It is easy to turn it into a battle of wills, such that your ultimate objective turns into a personal face-saving one. Sometimes, the right approach is to let it go.

2) Get an objective view

If you are leading a process of change and come up against trenchant opposition, it is sometimes difficult to see the rights and wrongs with objectivity. Is this person trying to sabotage you? Is he or she actually right, and you’re in the wrong? Or is the conflict a storm in a teacup that is can be met through compromise? It is often easier to see the answer to these questions from a detached position, so don’t be afraid to seek the advice and viewpoints of colleagues before deciding on the next step.

3) One step at a time

A typical change process has multiple strands, and conflicts are likely to arise around more than one issue. Tackle the points of contention one at a time, and choose the order carefully. Start with something minor, then move on to an area where there is room for compromise. This will help shift those who are in an entrenched position into a more positive and conciliatory frame of mind.

4) Work together 

Resistance to change often comes down to feelings of being powerless. If this is the root cause of the conflict, it is worth taking a look at my articles on gestalt psychology to get everyone working together to drive change in a way that works for all. 

5) Timing is everything

You might not be able to dictate when conflict arises, but you can choose when to address it. If emotions are running high, you can end up making a situation worse. Choose a time when everyone is calm and in a more objective frame of mind.

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