Conflict: What’s Change Got To Do With It?

Just about everything is new at work these days – shifts in the world economy, different skills, new technologies – the list is endless. These changes have the potential for creating conflict in the workplace. The interesting thing about change – we each choose how to approach it. Different people respond to major changes in different ways.

· The innovators/change agents, people who embrace change as an opportunity, seeking answers to questions, looking for ways to move change forward and easily adapting. Approximately 20% of employees fall into this category. They are often the first ones to get involved and may end up leading the change effort.

· The pragmatics who take a wait-and-see approach. They do whatever is possible to stay out of site and out of harm's way, keeping quiet and waiting to see who wins. Pragmatic so withhold their sponsorship and energy. Approximately half of the employees are pragmatics.

· The skeptics/traditionalists are the ones who resist change, actively or passively, and the significantly affect the organization's ability to move forward. They have a huge impact on morale. Approximately 30% of an organization's employees are skeptics.

Helping employees understand their response towards change helps frame their actions. While change is often uncomfortable, it can also bring a whole new energy level to the organization. As soon as everyone gets on board with the change, things can happen that move the group/team/department forward. The challenge – getting through the change and conflicts to get to the other side! Managers must be on the lookout for conflicts to ensure these conflicts positively drive the changes the organization is seeking.

When people are open to the possibilities that the change may bring, and they believe they share some of the responsibility for making change successful, they will select observable data, draw conclusions, and take action to support the change.

However, if people are not sure what is happening, and do not feel responsible for the outcome, they will select data that reinforces their belief leading to actions that actively or passively resist the change.

Everyone, even the innovators, needs to understand how the change will affect them. They need to know where they fit. For example,

· What are the business drivers?
· What are the job expectations? Have they changed?
· How have roles and responsibilities changed?

Navigating change is similar to experienced river guides approaching whitewater. They rely on their experiences but are prepared for the unexpected, like the appearance of previously submerged rocks. Based on their experience, they know how to approach difficult sections of the river, have the tools and techniques to guide their rafts and work with the water's movement and dynamics.

What can leaders do to support employees during periods of major change?

· Provide them with honest feedback.
· Help them find answers to their questions.
· Be clear in communicating expectations.
· Encourage them to connect, inquire, and perform. In other words, take positive action.
· Actively listen to what’s being said
· Understand the root causes of resistance

Change will occur in your organization. It’s so important that we devoted a chapter to it – What’s New At Work? – in The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. The steps that you take to mitigate the effects of that change will determine the number and types of conflict that occur, and whether conflict is a constructive or destructive force for your organization.


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