- Blog post
Catching disputes before they harden into conflicts
Do you know the difference between a dispute and a conflict? It’s more than just a matter of dictionary definitions – it’s about avoiding disruptions that can gut the effectiveness of a team or department.
Workplace mediation expert Timothy Keator points out that a dispute is typically a short-term difference over issues that can be negotiated. Example: Julie thinks the product team should spend two weeks making site visits to customers before finalizing new packaging. Frank adamantly disagrees, arguing that the team can get all the info it needs, much faster, through a phone and online survey. The team leader can negotiate this difference of opinion, perhaps by blending a limited number of site visits with phone and e-mail contacts.
But what if Julie and Frank have had unresolved disputes over timing in the past, such that Frank now believes her caution presents an obstacle to the team’s success, and thus to his bonus?
Then, if you’re the supervisor, you may find yourself with a conflict on your hands. Keator defines a conflict as a long-term difference with deeply rooted issues that are non-negotiable – because each adversary sees them as rooted in the other party’s very nature.
Action step: Address disputes as they arise. Don’t let them fester – and morph into hard-to-manage conflicts.