Conflict as a Training Initiator

The University of Wisconsin Office of Human Resources defines conflict as: a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests, or concerns. Conflict is an everyday reality in business, often creating negative feelings and a stressful environment. The normal human response is to avoid it whenever possible, but trainers can look at conflict through the lens of opportunity—where conflict exists, so can training.

photo courtesy © Richard Clark

I remember a time where one of my new managers was involved in some significant conflict with a subordinate. Her employee was having performance issues and, after repeated attempts, was not responding to correction.  Because this manager was relatively new to supervision, she had a lot of questions. They ranged from proper HR procedures to questions about how to improve employee performance through motivation. Her employee also had difficulty understanding what changes were needed to improve her performance. What I saw in this situation was a significant opportunity to train each of them.

This scenario can play out in hundreds of ways, but the principle remains the same: Identifying the issues and providing timely, relevant training can quickly solve the problem and successfully resolve the conflict.

Here are six steps to follow when conflict arises in your organization:

  1. Analyze the conflict to identify what perceived threats to needs, interests, or concerns exist in the situation. Look for the obvious issues; then try to dig deeper to discover the root problem.
  2. Once you’ve identified the issues, look at your existing training library for a course that will satisfy the identified needs.  As you do this, remember that adults learn best when the material is practical and applicable to the situation at hand. Make sure the course can be tailored to specifically address the current situation.
  3. If you don’t already have a course, talk to your Subject Matter Experts (SME) to address the issues you’ve identified. Now you have a decision to make: Is the conflict heated enough that the training needs to happen immediately? If so, get your SME to complete the course as soon as possible. If you have more time, spend it polishing the course for use in other situations. In either case, stick to good educational practices, but don’t be afraid to skip the bells and whistles if time is critical.
  4. Initiate the training and be open with the attendees about why it is occurring. Remember (and warn the SME) that because this is based on conflict, potential exists for negative interaction, especially if both sides of the conflict are in the same training session.
  5. When assessing the results of the training, the most obvious result to check is the status of the conflict. Beyond that, evaluate whether the trainees learned the material well enough that the conflict will not reoccur. If necessary, adjust the course materials and conduct a follow-up training session.
  6. The course then can be added to your training library and made available to others who need or want conflict resolution training.

One word of caution, stay in close contact with the HR department. Consider them key players whenever attempting to resolve actual workplace conflict through employee training.

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