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Our Bodies :: Turn Workplace Conflict Into a Catalyst for Innovation

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Dear Dr. Levister: I love my new job as a managing attorney, however, I find myself donning a suit of armor. The office is a racist, sexist, unbridled battlefield. What shall I do to stave off a full-scale war?
R.P.

Dear R.P.: Don’t throw away that armor yet. Here’s your opportunity to turn conflict into a catalyst for innovation. 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, threatening and competitive - is most effective in a full-scale war when compromising or backing down could mean defeat.
Golden Retriever: Accommodating and loyal - most effective at team building.
Roadrunner: Avoids conflicts at all costs.
Cobra: Wedge-builder. Thrives on keeping the pot stirred.
Eagle: Approaches conflict swiftly, skillfully, impartially and with precision.
Most of us fall into one or a combination of styles. Knowing your conflict management style can help unleash your creativity. First identify your own style and how it defines your leadership and communication skills in conflict. Don’t take a stand. Instead, identify your needs and objectives. Don’t be afraid to trust your charges. Be emphatic, intuitive, and professionally savvy. Develop good listening skills. Create an inner-department conflict management team. Include individuals from all five conflict styles. Avoid personality clashes -- focus on problem solving. Be fair. Establish parameters and work within them to manage and resolve conflict. Bring in professionals to conduct periodic seminars and workshops on conflict dispute resolution. Acknowledge signs of improvement.
Before you go marching off to war, consider conflict part of your master strategy. We often think in terms of winners and losers in conflict situations, but if conflict is intelligently and holistically managed, we can create a win-win situation.

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