Do you have advice about how to manage conflict on our board? We seem to be in two camps and can’t agree on what to do.
Conflict is bound to arise when a group of people is involved in a common endeavor. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, differing opinions can lead to creative solutions. On the other hand, serious and unresolved conflict can cripple an organization. Here are some suggestions for preventing, managing, and resolving conflict gleaned from some expert resources.
In her article “Moving From Dissonance to Harmony: Managing Conflict on the Board,” Jill Sarah Moscowitz offers these basic pointers:
- Start by reminding yourselves of your common interest in furthering the mission of organization
- Identify the key issues. Even if they seem obvious, take the time to label them and write them down.
- Begin with facts rather than assertions.
- Avoid taking about “my position” versus “your position.” Instead, seek out your common interests. What do you all want to see accomplished.
- Be truly curious. Focus more on listening than having the answer.
Writing in “Managing Conflict: A Guide for Volunteer Boards,” E. Grant MacDonald emphasizes that “Confronting a conflict situation almost always can benefit from face-to-face communication.” He suggests holding a series of meetings and offers these recommendations:
- Involve a trusted third party to facilitate the meetings.
- Insist on confidentiality.
- These are private meetings, not board meetings, but they are not secret meetings.
- Make sure everyone knows that no decisions will be made in these meetings that bind the organization. The goal is for the parties to agree on recommendations that they will make to the board at large.
MacDonald also offers these ten practices to help avoid unnecessary conflicts in the first place. Many of them can be part of your board development activities.
- Practice good interpersonal communication.
- Operate with a strategic plan.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities.
- Help develop a skilled chairperson.
- Learn about conflict resolutions processes.
- Establish a code of conduct for directors.
- Encourage performance evaluation.
- Implement a grievance procedure.
- Celebrate agreements and new understandings.
- Look to gender and cultural differences as a way out of a mess.