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Shifting our perception toward conflict: Don’t run away, run toward it

Are conflicts really a negative thing? Or should we change the way we perceive them? As far as I am concerned problems are inevitable and are part of our everyday life. As the philosopher Karl Popper states: “All life is problem-solving.”

Following Popper’s line of thought, problems are intrinsic to the human experience, so, perhaps we need to get better at tackling them more effectively when they rise, or deal with them before they even emerge and turn into a major problem. Normally when a problem arises, the root of it existed already, but was not confronted. You probably already know this – it isn’t rocket science.

Conflict normally happens when differences clash due to the diversity of opinion, ideas, perception, motivation and desires, and it allows problems to arise. A problem is something that needs solving, answering or considering. It can involve a person, a matter or situation that is difficult and perplexing. A small problem can turn into a huge one if there is conflict and if you allow it to fester. However, each problem presents us with an opportunity to solve it constructively and creatively. Conditions change and require adaptation and creativity. As Gerhard Gschwandtner, founder and CEO of Selling Power, outlined: “Problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity”. Problem-solving has the potential to solve conflicts constructively. 

Conflicts can lead to opportunities and do not need to end up in unresolved problems that will diminish your productivity in the long run. The first step toward problem-solving is to recognize that all the involved parties have particular needs and all of them are legitimate.

In this sense, conflict happens because there is an unattended, underlying problem and resolving the conflict depends on the process of deliberating possible solutions and picking one to implement.

Problem-solving is an in-demand skill not only for employers, but for you to tackle the conflicts that follow you in life, career and, yes, also in business. In fact, 62 percent of recruiters reported that they actively search for problem solvers, followed by adaptability 49% and time management 48%, (iCIMS Report, 2019). Being able to develop solutions is an invaluable skill, because it drives innovation and increases efficiency.  

In this article I aim for professionals not to necessarily avoid conflict, as it mostly represents an opportunity to improve and innovate. Here I describe the 5 primary steps in the problem-solving process that will boost your handling in conflicting situations:

1) Identify the problem and the factors that contribute to it

In order to solve a problem, you must first figure out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing factors and circumstances, and detect what needs to be addressed for a resolution. So, right at the start it will be crutial to gather data, find facts, listen actively, analyze causes, processes, and identify needs.

2) Brainstorm potential solutions

Once you’ve determined what is causing a problem, it’s time to brainstorm possible solutions. This often involves teamwork. It’s rare that a single strategy is the obvious route to solving a complex problem; devising a set of alternatives helps you cover your bases and reduces the risk in case the first strategy fails. This is particularly why at this stage it will be required a big fat chunk of creative thinking, prediction, forecasting, project design, project planning.

3) Evaluate and select one solution

Depending upon the nature of the problem and your management structure, evaluating the best solutions may be performed by assigned teams, team leads, or forwarded upwards to senior corporate decision makers. Whoever makes the decision must evaluate potential costs, required resources, and possible barriers to successful solution implementation. At this stage, one must analyze, discuss, corroborate, teamwork, test running, mediate, prioritize.

4) Implementation and follow-up

Once a course of action has been decided upon, it must be implemented, along with benchmarks, which can quickly and accurately determine whether the action is working to solve the problem. Strategy implementation also involves alerting changes to personnel in standard operating procedures. When you get to this stage you must collaborate, develop a benchmark, manage time thoroughly and manage the implementation of the solution (plan).

5) Review the results

Once a solution is implemented, the best problem-solvers have systems in place to ascertain if, and how quickly, it is working. This way, they know as soon as possible whether the issue has been resolved or, alternatively, whether they’ll have to change their response to the problem mid-stream. Last but not least, when you get to this stage, you will need to communicate and discuss the results, analyze the collected data, apply survey for feedback and satisfaction, follow-through and troubleshoot.

These 5 initial steps should help you get started in addressing your problems proactively as they rise. There is no such things as a cookie-cutter answer for problems. The solution you come up with will be determined by your ability to think outside the box. It’s always important to take the time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. This will enable you to predict better which strategy to use in order to solve future problems, if they relate to the original one. If not, it will definitely give you insights on how to approach it.

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