Agency leaders who address conflict directly, rather than sweep it under the rug, are taking a big step toward creating an environment where employees thrive and produce.
One doesn't often mention “conflict" and “unity" in the same breath. Workplace conflict is something most of us dread, especially when our days are stressful enough working in the ever-changing insurance industry.
Conflict—workplace and otherwise—is inevitable, but the good news is that conflict doesn't always have to be a bad thing. In fact, it can be the catalyst for taking the team dynamics at your agency to the next level.
Team synergy and positive workplace dynamics should be a goal at every insurance agency, but debates, differences of opinion, and communication breakdowns create tension and erode cohesiveness. Over time, this can have a negative impact on productivity, as well as engagement. Agency leaders who address conflict directly, rather than sweep it under the rug, are taking an important and significant step toward creating an environment where employees thrive and produce.
If done effectively, conflict resolution improves overall communication and collaboration, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and increasing team cohesion and trust. Of course, conflict should be addressed correctly to see positive results.
You can best handle contention on your team if you know which style to use for any given situation. Here are five common approaches:
1) Collaborating. Collaborating is working together to find a mutually acceptable solution. It is most effective when the issue is complex, and both parties have significant concerns that are important to them. For example, account managers who disagree about which new customer relationship management system (CRM) to implement.
Collaborating requires a high degree of cooperation. It can be time-consuming, and both parties need to trust one another, but it often leads to strong long-term solutions that benefit both sides. However, this style may not work well during an extreme time crunch or when one party has more authority than the other.
Tips to facilitate: Encourage active listening and respectful communication, create a safe and inclusive environment, and foster creativity and innovation.
2) Compromising. Finding a middle ground through negotiation is most effective when there are two parties who have equal power and both have important interests and goals. For example, maybe one service manager thinks the department should focus on customer retention while another service manager believes getting referrals that lead to new business is the most important priority.
Tips to facilitate: Encourage open dialogue and active listening, brainstorm possible solutions together, and negotiate with an open mind.
3) Competing. Competing is forcing a solution through power and authority. This is effective in a crisis or emergency when quick action is needed or when the stakes are high and the consequences of not taking fast, decisive action are significant. Competing requires taking a firm, authoritative stance to defend the agency's interests and objectives without compromise or collaboration.
Here's an example of an appropriate use of competing: making a unilateral decision after your network has been hacked and sensitive policyholder information has been compromised. However, when competing is used inappropriately, it can damage relationships and increase tension. This is because this style is often seen as having a clear winner and loser.
Tips to facilitate: Clearly communicate the reasons for the decision, be firm but not aggressive, and use this style sparingly.
4) Accommodating. Accommodating is giving in to the other party's demands. This is effective when the issue is minor or when maintaining the relationship with the other party is more important than the outcome.
For example, a producer requests new marketing collateral for a meeting the following morning. The communications specialist responsible for creating that material can't get it done without staying late. Understanding how important securing new business is for the agency, the individual stays late and finishes the materials—but asks the producer to respect their time in the future and stick to the required three-day lead time.
Tips to facilitate: Identify the underlying interests and find areas of agreement. Use this style selectively.
5) Avoiding. Avoiding is delaying or ignoring the conflict, often with the hopes that the problem will resolve itself. This is most effective when the issue is minor and nothing will be impacted. For example, team members disagree about whether to brew dark or medium roast coffee first thing in the morning.
Tips to facilitate: Stay neutral, monitor the situation and keep communication open.
Communicating in Conflict
Since communication and active listening are critical for resolving conflict, here are a few tips you should implement no matter which conflict resolution style you choose to implement:
- Maintain eye contact.
- Acknowledge the other person's perspective.
- Paraphrase what the other party said before making your own point.
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Be empathetic.
- Give your full attention.
Workplace conflicts, though often viewed negatively, present opportunities for growth and strengthened team dynamics when managed effectively. By implementing these strategies and prioritizing open communication, agencies can transform conflicts into stepping stones for improved collaboration, innovation, and trust among team members. Embracing conflict as a catalyst for positive change fosters a work environment where employees feel heard, valued, and empowered, ultimately enhancing overall productivity and success within insurance agencies.
Keather Snyder is the president and chief operating officer of The Omnia Group, an employee assessment firm providing the power of behavioral insight to help organizations make successful hires and develop exceptional employees.