Recently our Executive Director Susan Yates participated in this Q&A by Liz Markel on the topic of navigating through conflict at the Nonprofit Chicago blog. The blog is hosted by the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University. Susan will present a workshop on this subject at North Park University on March 25. Reprinted from Nonprofit Chicago:
Is there anything positive about conflict?
Yes! If we all just got along all the time, we wouldn’t improve our decisions or learn how to understand one another better. Just as we know that diversity of backgrounds and experiences enrich our nonprofits, so does some healthy disagreement. The question is how you and your organization manage that conflict.
Why is conflict so intimidating?
It’s interesting that you ask this question. Conflict is not intimidating for everyone. As I’m sure you have experienced, some people seem to thrive on conflict! The fact that people have such different responses to conflict is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to manage.
Plus, conflict can tap into our instinctual fight or flight response system. Our primitive “lizard brain” takes over – or tries to take over – and we lose our ability to think rationally about the conflict.
What role should compromise play in navigating a conflictual situation?
One of the main themes of my workshop will be understanding the five different responses to conflict and determining when each one is appropriate. Compromise is one response and the others are Collaboration, Competition, Avoiding and Accommodating. (This categorization is taken from the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument.) Each response is appropriate sometimes. The challenge is figuring out when to use a particular response.
Once you decide which response to use, you need to know how to use it. We’ll discuss what skills to use to implement each response and practice some of these skills. I’ll tell you now that the key to many conflict situations lies in how you listen, not necessarily in what you say.
What are some of the special challenges of addressing conflict in the non-profit setting?
Many aspects of nonprofit life simply make it tough: The urgent need for our services. The struggle for funding. Limits on support for infrastructure. Trying to bridge the worlds of donors, clients, staff and volunteers. Competing stakeholders.
Some of the same things that make non-profits so wonderful can also create conflict. For example: Righteous zealots. Do-gooders. Cultural diversity. Home-grown leadership. The desire to have all voices heard.
And then we have the challenges that any organization of human beings faces: ego, power, communication, status.
Whew. No wonder we need to work on handling conflict in a more positive way.
Susan will share her expertise on handling conflict in non-profit organizations at the upcoming half-day workshop “Navigating Your Way Through Conflict,” March 25, 2015 at North Park University. Get more information and register for this workshop.