When It Comes to Conflict Resolution Should Managers Work Things Out Amongst ThemselvesIf you think about how work takes place in organizations, especially today, roles are more interdependent than ever before. For managers to be successful, they are dependent on other people in the organization. As organizations grow and become more complex, roles become increasingly specialized, which increases interdependence. Our research shows that this leads to an increase in conflict, due to a lack of understanding of each others’ goals. So, for example, in order for me to finish my work, I need work from someone else, but they may have a different understanding of what is or isn’t a priority.

Most organizations acknowledge that this confusion can develop, but instead of creating a system for resolving conflicts, their policy is that managers are grown ups, receiving good salaries, and they should be able to work things out on their own. Certainly, managers can work things out on their own, but the compromises they reach are less likely to be effective. In fact, the idea that managers should work out their differences amongst themselves is number eight in our list of The Top 12 Fallacies That Get In The Way of Organizational Performance.

Why Leaving Managers to Resolve Their Own Conflicts is a Mistake

Two reasonable adults with conflicting positions should undoubtedly be able to come to some kind of mutually agreed resolution. The problem is that since neither of them actually has the authority to choose one position over the other, they get stuck negotiating, trying to find a tradeoff arrangement that works for them both. Whereas, if their common manager would simply step in and make a decision one way or the other, they could move forward much more easily and quickly.

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To give an example, let’s say that a finance person has a report due on the same day that an operations person has an emergency. The finance person’s boss says she has to do the report, but the operations person’s boss wants him to deal with the emergency. Both viewpoints are valid, because the two are getting conflicting delegation from their respective bosses. They will not be able to effectively resolve their conflict. They need someone higher up in the organization to decide which task is more important from an organizational perspective, because that person will have a broader context to understand what’s going to be best for the organization overall, as opposed to what’s best for one or the other of the two individuals.

Effective Conflict Resolution

It is critical that all organizations have a conflict resolution system in place. When two roles are interdependent, there must be a level of management accountable for both roles with the necessary context and authority to resolve conflicts between them. However, this is not to say that managers should never try to figure out their differences themselves before bringing them to their boss. Their conflict may just be a simple misunderstanding, and they may not need any help resolving it. But in situations where two people have opposing, yet equally valid positions, and choosing one over the other is impossible, they should be able to sit down with someone higher up in the organization and say, “We can’t do it both ways, how would like us to proceed?”

Conflict resolution is not always easy, but it can be exponentially improved when organizations have a proper framework of accountability and authority in place that promotes feedback loops and effective communication . That way, individuals can focus their energy productively instead of wasting countless hours negotiating conflicts.