Managing Diversity Conflicts

Managing Diversity Conflicts

Conflict is unique in that, although it may cause turmoil, without it people tend to become complacent. If you do not have an incompatibility of ideas in the workplace, then it is difficult to keep moving forward. Organizations need challenge in order to grow.

Another unique aspect of conflict: It generates ideas. The best ideas stem from finding the best solutions to problems that exist. For instance, many organizations seek trainers with high self-esteem, but at the same time, trainers who have high self-esteem tend to provoke conflict to develop. Therefore, it is important to build the team member's self-esteem as well by initiating exercises that promote idea generation. Conflict arises when people with high self-esteem confidently throw their ideas out on the table; and the more ideas that are thrown out, the more conflict is developed. The next step is to then teach team members how to resolve conflict and choose an idea that allows the company to build innovative products or solutions.

When a diverse team is able to transform conflict and ideas into an innovative solution, then you have true teamwork and it does not matter if the team members are gay, straight, white, or black. The differences no longer matter: What matters is that the team was able to use its ideas to create a solution, and its members have worked together.

However, just as there are benefits to conflict, there are also negatives. When conflict does not create innovative solutions, it often creates destruction. Many employees are unable to work when there is conflict brewing, even if it is for the generation of new ideas. What tends to happen is that people become sour and negative. They have petty arguments that hurt their relationships with their team members. They gripe and complain about company policies and particularly those that are mandated by federal law, over which the company has no control.

Many conflicts related to diversity are never beneficial, and then we see the "isms" present themselves again. Organizations must have a zero tolerance policy for the "isms," as hatred only leads to conflict that cannot be solved and no compromises can be made. Sexual harassment is one area of conflict that many companies cannot seem to overcome. This kind of discrimination causes many problems, including:

· Decreased productivity;

· Illness;

· Turnover;

· Low self-confidence.

A survey by Working Woman in 1988 found that women lose self-confidence and their production level decreases when they know that sexual harassment exists in a workplace. Victims of sexual harassment tend to experience a 10 percent decrease in production as well. Those who witness the sexual harassment have a 2 percent decrease, according to the survey.

As time goes on, this does not change much and shows the impact that sexual harassment can have on an organization. A more recent study has shown that an estimated 15 percent of women will leave their job due to sexual harassment, and this causes an increase in turnover for the company. Additionally, the lawsuits generated by sexual harassment are expensive, costing an average-sized company approximately $8.7 million.

Leadership Skills to Reduce Conflict Pitfalls

Leaders in an organization must keep their listening skills sharp in the workplace. Listening can allow leaders to detect the nuance of negative behaviors and be aware of potential conflict situations. However, no matter how well we communicate, there will always be misunderstandings that result in conflict.

It is vital to be as constructive as possible when communicating with your team members when these conflicts and misunderstandings occur. There are five response skills that you must use to reduce and respond to these situations:

1. Support: Show that you recognize when diverse groups of people are working together and communicating effectively.

2. Clarify: Paraphrase and ask for more information to increase your understanding of another person's perspective.

3. Suggest: If you hear something clearly stated, but you think it is not appropriate or the correct solution, then suggest something different by using phrases such as "I feel…" or "I believe…." Use humor when possible, but be specific and creative.

4. Request: We often need to establish our boundaries when a situation goes too far. Asking for cooperative action allows you to solve the problem with a sense of shared responsibility.

5. Insist: In more serious conflict situations, you need to utilize a quick response, such as, "Tom, this is the third time you have interrupted Sherry during our meeting. Please let her finish speaking."

"I" Statements

In many cases, there are no misunderstandings and someone has simply acted or spoken in such a way that is offensive. In order to counteract this without inflaming conflict, you can use "I" statements to prevent further conflict.

If you begin a sentence with "I," your statements have a greater positive impact and can clarify what you are thinking, saying, or feeling.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Diversity Training course?

Compare these two statements:

"I feel that you…"


When you begin with "I," it is apparent that you are speaking from within your perception. When you begin with the word "you," people think you are blaming them, even though that may not be your intention.

Below is an example template for "I" statements:

"I have a concern. When I saw your _________, ____________ happened, and I felt ______. I'd like __________. How would you feel about trying ___________?"

Here is a situation in which to apply the template:

"I have a concern about what happened in our meeting today. When I saw you did not acknowledge my suggestion, I felt undervalued. I'd like you to make more of an effort to recognize what I say in the meetings. How would you feel about trying my idea?"

By using these types of statements, you are showing the person that you value your working relationship and you are taking ownership of your feelings and perceptions.

Remember, "I" statements should:

· identify a shared problem and claim ownership of your perception of it.

· describe the behavior the problem presents.

· express concrete consequences.

· express feelings you experience as a result of the problem.

· express a preference for change, ask for ideas, and offer suggestions.

Managing Conflict Diversity Tips

· Some conflict is beneficial and promotes innovation.

· Some conflict is harmful and can cause destruction.

· Constructive response skills allow you to resolve conflict productively.

· Using "I" statements allows you to reduce conflict.

· Avoid conflict-increasing behaviors and unproductive conflict strategies.

· Mediate conflict among others to help them work together to solve their differences.
· Manage conflict for the benefit of the whole organization.
A diverse team can help its members realize the potential benefits of diversity, or it can completely fall apart as a result of diversity issues among team members that lead people to take sides. Teams are a must in today's businesses; and managers often are the team leaders, making it vitally important for them to understand how to build, maintain, and nourish the relationships within their teams.

The Team-building Wheel

This wheel, developed by William Sonnenschein in The Diversity Toolkit, can be used to maintain a high-performance team in a diverse workplace. It is a wheel because it eliminates the need for a hierarchy and shows the team-building process as a circular one. The best way to develop the team is to follow it clockwise with all spokes of equal importance.
Follow the spokes of the wheel with equal importance. Team members must first get to know others on the team, recognize differences, establish a mission, and find ways to support one another. Once the team has been working together for a while, then you can begin to incorporate evaluations. Remember that developing a high-performance team is an ongoing process.
Embracing Differences

Embracing differences means that each team member needs to understand the differences among team members. We can be equal team members but still acknowledge that we have differences. We often do this in conversation. If you ignore those differences, then you are likely to have issues arise at the worst possible moments.

When team members refuse to acknowledge that each one is different from the next, then they are essentially sweeping their differences under the rug and waiting for them to arise at an inopportune time in the future. When people hold back minor prejudices, then assumptions are made about one another. This causes work production to become sloppy and leads to performance problems. When performance problems occur, then blame is assigned. Eventually the team becomes so dysfunctional that it simply does not work. Members end up sabotaging one another's work. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge differences.

Group Discussion Exercise

When working with a team, it is best to engage our active listening skills. Begin a discussion with one of the following questions so that you may all learn a little more about your backgrounds.

· Where did you grow up? How did that influence who you are today?

· What specific area of your culture is important to you, that you are not likely to give up?

· What do you remember about your favorite holiday or tradition when you were growing up?

Celebrating Humanity

No matter how diverse our backgrounds, we all have some things in common. As human beings, we communicate through language; and physically we are all similar. We all love to go on vacation, eat good food, and have fun with our families. These are things that all people have in common. Any good team is able to find the areas members have in common and then use those as a starting point to build better relationships.

Building on Uniqueness

Even though we all have something in common, we are all unique. We all have individual strengths and weaknesses that we bring to the workplace. As a team, we have to learn what those are in our team members so that we can work together and be strong as a whole. By understanding the uniqueness of each person, you are able to utilize strengths in one another and build team synergy. Remember, the total sum is greater than its individual parts.
People work well together when everyone feels as though his or her talents and skills are being utilized. Teams often make the mistake of assuming that fairness also means equal treatment. This is not necessarily the case. In many instances, teams assume that equality means that everyone has to do her or his fair share in all of the tasks. However, there are situations in which those team members who excel in certain areas should handle those areas and allow the other team members to use their skills in other areas as well. Just because the whole team is not sharing the responsibility of all the tasks does not mean that some are not doing their fair share. Use one another's strengths fairly, and you will excel as a team.
Establish a Team Mission Statement

Just as an organization needs a mission statement to focus its goals and understand core values, so does the team. One of the most important roles of a team leader is to get with the team and create a team mission statement that lays out the core values of the team. Consider these areas when developing your core values:

· How important is the diversity in our team?

· How does diversity in the team affect our response to conflict?

· How does diversity positively impact the team's mission?

· How do our differences shape our values?

· How does our diversity of values come together to form a single set of values?

Develop a Supportive Climate

A team cannot last long if the members do not support one another. Diversity often causes a lack of confidence, but this can be reversed. Encourage a supportive climate in which team members respect one another for being unique and praise one another for doing what they do well. A team leader should develop a supportive climate, be supportive of all members, and encourage support among members. Team members should feel as though they are respected and safe and know that it is okay to make mistakes. Team members should also be able to take constructive criticism.

Continuously Evaluate the Team

Improvement in team member relations is a constant process. Continuous improvement is also one of the reasons that leading-edge companies are so productive. The best way for a team to be productive and innovative is if its members are constantly evaluating and growing. They should give feedback to one another on a regular basis and constantly communicate. A good team should never stop communicating. By communicating, the team will never stop growing.