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Right thoughts, right words, right action

Whatever our instinctive reaction to ‘conflict’, the reality is that it is as inevitable in business as it is anywhere else in life. So, love it or hate it you are likely to have to manage it at some point.

Moreover, in an ever more complex and pressurised world, the ability to spot conflict early and then to manage it successfully is likely to become more of a differentiator for those competing for leadership, board or major advisory roles.

Failure to manage conflict well might mean that even a relatively minor issue builds into a destructive force that is capable of ruining relationships, derailing projects and sometimes even destroying a business. Yet conflict can also be a very positive thing, perhaps even the spark that ignites incredible creativity or the catalyst for transformational change. Less dramatically, it might simply be a situation that enables us to reset and strengthen relationships before they go seriously off track.

Evidence suggests that managing conflict in the workplace is far from a national strength. Research conducted by publisher CPP, with 5,000 workers in nine EU countries and in the US, revealed that the UK had the highest rate of anger and frustration with workplace conflict. A Healthy Companies International survey also showed that 41% of employees think that their boss does not manage workplace conflict well. Estimates from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) suggest that 20% of a leader’s time is taken up with conflict resolution. So, even if we have higher expectations than other countries, it looks like there’s an opportunity.

Root causes

Conflict arises in many ways. Sometimes the root cause is structural. There may be a lack of clarity or agreement on the role of the board or some of the central characters involved. Alignment within the board may be an issue, or it could be that the alignment between the board and the executive or management committee is a problem. 

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