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Soon after Charmaine Colthirst joined a large West Covina, California, dental group in 1999, she realized that she was a sitting duck. The largely female, Hispanic staff was restless. Their coworker, the assistant to the previous office manager, had been passed over for the promotion. Moreover, Colthirst, an African American, spoke no Spanish — in a practice with a large Spanish-speaking patient population. “There were little plays to undermine my authority,” recalls Colthirst. “Instructions and requests were not responded to immediately, and there was always resistance to any change I wanted to implement.”
If you, like Colthirst, find yourself donning a suit of armor at work, then your workplace has become a battlefield. But before you go marching off to war, consider conflict part of your master strategy.
An American Management Association (AMA) study reveals that employees spend some 25% of their work hours in dispute — that’s roughly two hours a day of unproductive squabble. But, says Lynne Eisaguirre, author of The Power of a Good Fight: How to Embrace Conflict to Drive Productivity, Creativity, and Innovation (Alpha Books, $24.95), conflict is good — if you recognize its inherent creative potential.
According to Eisaguirre there are five main conflict styles:
- Pit Bull: Argumentative, intimidating, threatening, and competitive, the pit bull avoids concession and is most effective in a full-scale war when compromising or backing down could mean defeat.
- Golden Retriever: Accommodating and loyal, the golden retriever is a people pleaser and is most effective at team building.
- Roadrunner: Avoiding conflict at all costs, the roadrunner never engages in petty disputes.
- Cobra: The cobra includes others in the conflict rather than directly engaging the persons involved. They successfully build a consensus among the powerless.
- Eagle: The eagle approaches conflict swiftly, skillfully, impartially, and with precision.
Most of us fall into one or a combination of styles. But all five, says Eisaguirre, can produce results and achieve objectives.
Colthirst, the quintessential “eagle” in conflict management, noticed that one young woman seemed more cooperative than the others. Slowly, Colthirst began to foster a friendship with the young woman, and through her began to understand how best to win over the others. Colthirst started bringing in treats on Fridays and rewarding exceptional work with special gifts. “They were like kids in need of parenting, and that was the key to connecting with them — without patronizing them,” she adds.
“Colthirst’s boss should have championed her to the staff for a smoother transition,” says Janice Bryant Howroyd, CEO of Act-1 Group, a staffing and contingency workforce provider in Torrance, California. “But whether by intuition, empathy, or professional savvy, Colthirst was enabled to find a quick and sure resolution, and in doing so she grew as a person and a professional. “We often think in terms of winners and losers in most conflict situations, but if conflict is intelligently and holistically managed, we can create winners and winners,” says Bryant Howroyd.
KNOWING YOUR CONFLICT-COPING AND -MANAGEMENT STYLE CAN HELP UNLEASH YOUR CREATIVITY
Now that you have identified the animals in the menagerie and have studied their habits, here’s how to tame