Conflict, whether you call it difference of opinion, or disagreement, is an inevitable part of project life. Managing it well is critical to short-range project success and long-term healthy relationships. Organizational success relies on both project success and healthy ongoing relationships.
While not all conflicts or disagreements can be settled to satisfy all parties (win-win), there can be many more of them if the disagreeing parties put their efforts towards addressing the conflict and the decision that will end it rather than competing with one another.
Even when there is a win-lose conflict, cultivating long term relationships better enables follow through and future collaboration. Take for example two people vying for the same job. Imagine what might happen a year or two later when the one who lost is interviewing his opponent for a position in the ‘losers’ new company.
The way the conflict was managed will make a big difference. If they perceived a fair process and there was a cordial closure, it is more likely that they will consider their experience with one another without letting emotions overwhelm objectivity.
Decisions resolve conflicts and set up the action that will influence the future. Objectivity is a key to effective conflict resolution because it leads to rational and practical decisions and effective action to carry them out.
We are living in a time when beliefs are confused with reality, when ideologies and emotions drive decision making, often without considering longer term outcomes. To come to an effective decision to resolve a conflict it is necessary to suspend beliefs and attachments long enough to assess their usefulness.
Are you willing to question and validate your beliefs? Are you willing to collaborate with your opponents to confront the conflict rather than one another?
“When you see.., how belief, prejudice, conclusions, and ideals divide people and therefore breed conflict, you see that such activity is obviously not intelligence. Will you drop all your prejudices, all your opinions … so that you have a free, uncluttered mind?
“If you say it is impossible, you will never find out for yourself what it is to be intelligent.” – J. Krishnamurti
Krishnamurti pulls no punches. He says that to be well, happy, and able to take care of business, you need to stop being driven by beliefs and biases, you need to see things as they are, objectively.
Objectivity is the quality of being unbiased, relying on facts rather than opinions and personal feelings when making decisions. Objectivity does not mean ignoring the role of opinions, emotions, and gutfeel. It means taking them into consideration and making sure that the decision being made is the right decision.
If we overemphasize rational analysis, we end up with solutions that are brittle and hard to implement because they ignore the human element. If we under emphasize analysis, caught up in emotions, we get poor outcomes and ongoing strife.
Confronting the Issue
Objectivity leads to the idea of confronting the issue rather than the opponent. This is far easier to act upon in projects and organizations as opposed to the socio-political realm of ethnic groups, nations, and governments.
Here, in projects we have the advantage of relatively clear mutual objectives among stakeholders. For the most part, everyone is after a quality outcome, at a reasonable price, within time constraints. There may be differences of opinions about just about everything – objectives, designs, estimates, plans, resources, etc. But if the parties take a step back and remember what they are all after, there is a good chance that they will make good decisions to achieve it.
Taking a long view
Often, when there is conflict the tendency is to think about the short-term consequences of the decision. Objectivity requires a long-term view.
Will the design option enable easy maintenance? Will the people who are on the “losing” side take an active role in implementing the decision, even though it was not their first choice? Will ongoing relationships be healthy?
What Does it Take to be Objective
It seems so simple, objectively address the issue to come up with resolution, a decision to act, that satisfies as many participants as possible and leads to successful project completion and healthy long-term relationships. Simple, yes. But not easy.
Emotions, beliefs, and biases get in the way. If the parties are unwilling or unable to step back and objectively assess the situation and make a decision based on identified decision criteria, they will struggle to justify their position, often relying on hierarchical authority, rhetoric, and distortion rather than good sense.
Two things are required: emotional and social intelligence and an effective decision-making process.
The process is a starting point for optimizing conflict resolution. A process that includes identifying decision criteria and that uses analytical methods, opens the door to improved self-awareness and self-management. An effective process makes it less likely that strong willed, assertive people will be able to have their way regardless of the facts and what is best for the organization and project. It forces people to step back and assess things objectively.
Emotional and social intelligence promote the ability to disengage from feelings long enough to be rational and to respect the needs of others. But even when there are parties who lack the ability to exercise self-management and recognize the power of objectivity, an effective process will influence the outcome.
As you make the decisions that resolve conflicts, make the effort to step back and drop your prejudices and opinions so that you have a free, uncluttered mind? Will you take the time and effort to validate your feelings with facts and consideration of alternative views?
It takes effort and awareness to bring objectivity to bear when you feel strongly about your position. It takes skill, courage, and patience to question your beliefs, validate them, and accept that your way is not the only right way and may even be the wrong way.