Newsletter Vol. 6, Issue 1
February 2008


Welcome to the quarterly Working Dynamics Newsletter. Our goal is to highlight how we can have stronger work relationships, communicate more effectively, and manage conflict constructively in the workplace.

I hope you'll find our suggestions useful and contact us when we can help.

Susan Gunn
Working Dynamics

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In this issue:
  • About the Publisher
  • What Best Describes the Frequency and Type of Conflict in Your Organization?
  • How People Most Often Express Conflict
  • Avoiding Conflict: What are the Consequences?
  • Training and Coaching to Manage Conflict
  • Opportunities to Build Conflict Competence Abound

  • What Best Describes the Frequency and Type of Conflict in Your Organization?

    According to the CCL Conflict Poll (Center for Creative Leadership, July 2007), 85% of respondents reported that conflict occurs on either a constant or a regular basis. How about your organization? Would you be in that 85%? Conflict is inevitable, so you probably do experience it. All conflict outcomes aren't equal though. Conflict often manifests itself quickly and seemingly unpredictably. What happens next -- how we respond -- either leads to good outcomes or results in bad outcomes. Next, ask yourself, "What do you see when you see conflict play out?"

    Signs you are getting good results from conflict:

    • High creativity in problem solving
    • Tensions kept to a minimum when there are differences of opinion (especially when there are sensitive interpersonal issues)
    • Different views invited and incorporated to reach well-vetted decisions

    Signs you are getting bad results from conflict:

    • Rather than looking for solutions to problems, people are looking for someone to blame
    • People exhibit destructive behaviors such as lashing out, digging in and refusing to budge, withholding information, using inappropriate humor, etc.
    • People communicate negative feelings indirectly rather than speaking with the person about their concerns (e.g., negative looks, gestures, and sighs)

    If conflict is "regular" and "constant" in organizations, how can you respond to get more good outcomes and fewer bad outcomes?

    How People Most Often Express Conflict
    CCL Poll on Conflict, July 2007

    In group sessions, I ask participants "How do people in your organization deal with conflict?," The most frequent resounding answer: "By avoiding it!" In the July CCL Conflict Poll, managers in national or multi-national corporations, nonprofits and mid-size and large businesses said the same thing. In fact, only 19% responded that conflict is handled in a direct and clear way in their organizations.

    Handled indirectly, or left to fester, conflict tends to find a way to surface later. When it does, the same problems exist and they are often accompanied by other intense negative emotions such as resentment, frustration, and anger.

    Avoiding Conflict: What are the Consequences?

    Avoidance as a behavioral response will ensure the benefits of healthy conflict can't be realized. If we are busy avoiding conflict, we aren't engaging in the constructive behaviors that lead to creativity and decision-making. Rather than avoid conflict, we need to be working to understand others' perspectives, working together to create solutions, communicating openly and honestly, and reaching out to others.

    Avoiding conflict is "throwing the baby out with the bath water" -- when one avoids the painful aspects of conflict, one sacrifices possibly positive outcomes. Research indicates that responding to conflict constructively results in higher creativity and better decision-making -- two outcomes not to be missed.

    Training and Coaching to Manage Conflict
    training and coaching

    It is not surprising that people feel they would benefit from training or coaching to manage conflict. The stress alone is great for leaders and all participants in destructive conflict. The negative impact on the organization in terms of productivity, employee engagement, and service is equally impressive and devastating.

    Working Dynamics works with individuals and groups to learn how to manage conflict competently. By first understanding conflict and personal reactions, then replacing destructive responses with constructive ones, individuals and entire organizations can manage conflict and lead more effectively. To discuss training, coaching, or consulting with your organization, contact Susan Gunn, Working Dynamics.

    Opportunities to Build Conflict Competence Abound
    opportunity to practice new skills

    Conflict isn't limited to the workplace. As you learn new ways to approach conflict at work, you can apply those same skills off the job. Authors Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan encourage conflict competence in any setting: "Engaging in perspective-taking with your spouse, children or friends can defuse tension and set the stage for more meaningful relationships. Reaching out to estranged family members can renew lost connections. A delayed response or reflective thinking with the grocery store clerk or waiter may preserve everyone's sanity and enjoyment while shopping or dining. By engaging in constructive behaviors consistently, you improve your ability to handle conflict anywhere and with anyone." Then, engaging in constructive behaviors and becoming conflict competent in a complex organizational setting can follow with greater ease.

    For more information, read Runde and Flanagan's book Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader.

    About the Publisher

    Susan Gunn is president of Working Dynamics, a Richmond, VA, consulting firm. Working Dynamics builds collaboration and success in the workplace through development programs and conflict management. Learn more about us at www.workdyn.com.


    "You can act upon your emotions or be acted upon by them."

    -- Unknown


    "It's very hard to get your heart and head together in life. In my case, they're not even friendly."

    -- Woody Allen
    Crimes and Misdemeanors


    "We boil at different degrees."

    -- Benjamin Franklin ________________________

    Contact us for details:

    CDP Certification Session March 3, 2008 (register by 2/26)

    Organizational Assessment

    Team Consulting


    Conflict Dynamics and Assessment


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