How to Kill Conflict…“Nip It In the Bud!”
To quote the great 20th-century philosopher, Mayberry’s Deputy Barney Fife, one of the best ways to avoid consequences is to do the right thing in the first place and simply, “Nip it in the bud!”
Succinctly put, conflict often happens because people tend to be gutless. I’ve heard it said, “If you want to have less conflict, have more of it.” I think that’s profound. When we meet conflict head- on (not pretending that the problem doesn’t exist), we become healthier for it.
For instance, suppose you’re the manager of an art department for an advertising agency, and you learn that Jill, a young design artist, is using her company computer to buy family Christmas gifts. You know, and she knows, that it’s against company policy to use the firm’s computers for non-company purposes. You may hope the problem just goes away. After all, you like Jill and want her to evolve into an important part of your team. “Besides,” you tell yourself, “she has great people skills and communicates well with the clients. Sure, she’s breaking policy. But what’s the big deal? Christmas will be over soon. It’s not impacting her work.” Yet in your heart of hearts, you know what she’s doing is wrong.
Now, suppose a month later you learn that another designer is using his computer to download porn. But this time, the stakes are higher. This time, that person is Eric, the head of the department.
With a gut load of righteous indignation, you summon Eric into your office and demand, “Why are you doing this? You know it’s against company policy to use your computer for non-company purposes — and besides, what you’re doing is wrong!”
This brazen young man, however, isn’t operating with your moral compass. And he decides to argue his case based on the merits of your first complaint, claiming, “Everybody in the department knows that you allowed Jill to use her computer to buy gifts online!” Now what? You have lost control and are forced to argue your case from a defensive posture.
The fact is, this problem with Eric might never have happened (or, at least could have been dealt with much more succinctly) had you been courageous enough to deal firmly with Jill earlier.
To successfully handle conflict, it’s wise to deal with the little battles first. That way, you may be able to avoid many of the wars. By dealing with the little tremors as they arise, we’re more likely to miss the big earthquakes.
Some of my greatest regrets are the times that I pretended not to see a problem. Pain came when I ignored a situation that I should have confronted. The most costly times were when I looked the other way, and failed to “nip it in the bud.”