Conflict Prevention Series: Implement a Conflict Management and Resolution Policy
So far, we’ve talked about implementing a set of ethical principles and a code of conduct as two ways to prevent unproductive conflict in your organization. Before we get into the third method of conflict prevention, implementing a conflict management and resolution policy (CMRP), let’s talk about the difference between conflict management and conflict resolution.
What is the difference between conflict resolution and conflict management?
Conflict resolution is the process of bringing a specific conflict to an end. A conflict can be resolved in many different ways, and not all of them will leave both parties feeling satisfied and validated. In some cases, one party may have more formal power, and can force an outcome that may not necessarily make the other party happy. In other cases, circumstances may change such that the conflict becomes moot.
The concept of conflict management assumes that conflict is inevitable. When we manage conflict, we create consistent methods of approaching conflict to minimize damage to individuals and the organization. Conflict management is like directing water with structures such as dams, reservoirs, and locks, which we use to harness the power of the water and minimize collateral damage. When we manage conflict, we can use the power of the conflict for positive change while removing a lot of the hurt that can result from unmanaged conflict. Implementing ethical principles, codes of conduct, and conflict management and resolution policies (CMRPs) are all excellent ways to manage conflict.
Why is a conflict resolution and management policy better than a grievance policy?
You may be thinking, “we don’t need a conflict management and resolution policy – we already have a grievance policy.” A CMRP is much different than a grievance policy, for a few reasons. First, the grievance policy relies on a formal organizational hierarchy and the assumed neutrality of a human resources department to resolve conflicts. Grievance policies can be ineffective because the power differentials in an organizational hierarchy can prevent individuals from speaking up about their true feelings, and they may say that they feel like the conflict is resolved when it’s really not. In addition, a grievance policy can only be truly effective if the human resources department has the power to implement process, policy, and cultural changes in an organization, and that is not always the case.
In contrast, the CMRP relies on the conflict resolution skills of the affected individuals – it places the responsibility of resolving the conflict where it belongs: with the parties who are in conflict. If implemented well, the CMRP also builds relationships and reduces unproductive conflict overall, which increases productivity, reduces burnout, and reduces turnover.
How do you develop and implement a conflict management and resolution policy?
A CMRP is a set of guidelines that create a structure your employees can use to effectively resolve conflicts with as few third parties as possible. The best CMRPs guide employees to address their conflicts quickly and according to an existing code of ethics and code of conduct. The CMRP should also reflect and support the organization’s mission and vision. If necessary (and it probably will be), the implementation of the CMRP should include hands-on (in-person) training in relational conflict resolution techniques to better prepare employees to address conflicts directly with the person with whom they are in conflict. A CMRP should also create a neutral body, ideally composed of employees from every level of the organization, that can mediate conflicts if necessary.
A conflict management and resolution policy example
At one point I was working with a nonprofit that had experienced a lot of organizational trauma – turnover, chronic lack of funding, lack of support from the board, etc. – and was also experiencing a lot of conflict, according to the organizational assessment I conducted. One employee noted that they did have a grievance policy, but that it stopped with the executive director, so there was no outlet if the conflict happened to be with the executive director. We decided to develop something that we called the Integrated Conflict Management Policy. We used the term integrated to refer to the fact that all internal stakeholders – employees, volunteers, and board members – were expected to follow the policy. In addition, we included a guideline about surveying the employees at least twice a year to assess early stage systemic conflict. Employees were asked to first try to resolve the conflict with relational conflict skills (in which they had been trained), and then they had a choice of whether to speak with their supervisor or a neutral conflict coach who would keep the conversation confidential. Mediation was also an option and, as a last resort, a subcommittee of conflict coaches was formed from the board’s personnel committee to make final decisions if the conflict was truly intractable.
CMRPs require work to develop, implement, and maintain, and they are absolutely worth it. Reducing unproductive conflict will help you create a psychologically safe culture in your organization, which will significantly reduce burnout and turnover, and increase your overall productivity and success. If you’d like to talk with us about what a CMRP might look like in your organization, please contact us for a complimentary consultation.