Conflict management with the millennials

Every problem has a gift for you in its hands – Richard Bach.


Given the diversity in today’s workforce and the differences — in attitudes, approaches, perspectives, opinions, and values — conflict is inevitable, with causes for discord ranging from the innocuous to the seemingly earth-shattering. Some conflicts can be unchanging, intrinsic to the business, while others may be contextual. One thing is certain, however, that workplace conflicts are not always a cause for concern. In fact, conflicts, are essential for healthy relationships, awareness and appreciation of the opposite viewpoint, and when managed appropriately, can lead to improved workplace milieu.

The advent and increasing predominance of the tech-savvy millennials and the transformation of organisations as they adopt the latest technology have necessitated a paradigm shift in traditional business concepts and practices. The question that’s often posed is, ‘Is conflict management with millennials different? If yes, how and why?’

The answer lies in understanding the difference between generations. Every generation, invariably, has had to deal with the so-called ‘generation gap’. The main challenge lies in the inherent differences in the nature and outlook of the generations. Millennials are identified with the tendency to question, the ability to collaborate and work in teams, their innate aptitude for technology, their inclination to text rather speak, and an informal approach to work, especially working hours, dress codes, and so on. Millennials tend to view, (and probably rightly so), hierarchy, inflexibility in authority, as well as age-old practices and procedures as archaic. The root of why conflict management with millennials should be different lies in the fact that, unlike the older generations, millennials are not content to comply with directives because they are told to do so. And their ability (and tendency) to use technology to communicate reduces their ability to handle discord.

Once the ‘why’ is understood, the ‘how’ of conflict management with millennials becomes simpler. From providing forums and technology-enabled platforms to voice concerns, to encouraging face-to-face conversations, conflict management with millennials needs not just a pro-active but also a more transparent and flexible approach.

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Some of the main points/aspects to be kept in focus are as follows:

Dialogues and conversations are vital. Poor, ineffective communication, absence of clarity, especially regarding expectations or insufficient feedback are often causes of conflict, which can be diminished by seeking opinions or exchanging views/information.

Listening with an open mind is important if conflicts are to be minimised. Listening does not necessarily imply agreement. Rather, it conveys that due importance is being paid to differing opinions and all viewpoints are equally valued and appreciated.

Considering various perspectives makes it easier to appreciate the issues involved in the conflict, and build a holistic view to help make informed decisions. Questioning assumptions, seeking information, and viewing issues from the other person’s perspective are important for effective conflict management, where millennials are involved.

Clear, candid communication leaves little room for ambiguity. Frequent two-way feedback not only enhances engagement, but also reduces the possibility of future conflict. Voicing expectations clearly, and encouraging honest dialogues and constructive criticism pave the way for cooperation and collaboration, which millennials thrive on.

Texting is okay, but can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication. Face-to-face conversations over a cup of coffee can facilitate conflict management faster and more efficiently than that chain of e-mails ever can.

The fundamentals of conflict management remain unchanged even with a multigenerational workforce. Stereotyping conflicts as age-related or inter-generational issues is akin to squandering away valuable resources. Instead, the right approach and right perspective, tempered with respect, empathy, an open, unbiased mind and a flexible attitude is all that is needed for a harmonious and efficient workplace.

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Suvodeep Das is the Vice President – Sales and Marketing, Sodexo BRS India. He has top-tier Marketing & business experience of over 20 years and leads marketing, communication, new solution development & sales in his current role. Prior to this, he has worked in leadership positions of marketing & product management in global companies, such as Western Union, Unilever & Ogilvy along with large Indian companies, such as Reliance & Marico. He joined Sodexo from an American startup called Greenlight Planet, where he led global marketing & product development. He holds an MBA degree in marketing, and was featured amongst the “Young Marketers of the Year” in Brand Equity (Economic Times) in 2005. He was also among the top 50 Fintech leaders in Asia, in 2016. Suvodeep is an avid follower of Formula 1 and football and loves to travel.