Conflict is an inevitable part of life, but everything necessary to deal with conflict wisely, honorably, victoriously, is already present within us. HR professionals are responsible for guiding the culture and processes of conflict management in the workforce, but sometimes it is difficult to determine the root of an issue and the optimal methods to overcome them.

In The Art of War, The master general Sun Tzu describes five elemental “forces” that govern conflict between armies; Tao, Tien, Dee, Fa, Jiang. Understand these 5 forces within your organization, and you will have a better chance of overcoming any conflict that may arise.

Tao: The “Way”

Sun Tzu describes the morale arrangement of the force as an important component in mastering potential and possibility. In business terms, this refers to the purpose and vision of the company. If employees do not understand where the company is going and why their role is important in the success of that mission, tension develops and engagement diminishes. Be sure to consistently reinforce the vision of the company and relate to why the employee’s role is important to mission success

Tien: The “Weather”

Literally translated as “Weather”, tien more broadly represents the timing of executing operations. Just as charging the hill during a rain storm in ineffective, implementing change or other business initiatives may create conflict due to poor timing between the need to change and the desire to change within the individual. Change is immediate, but transition is a long process. Manage the transition by planning new implementations or methods around the current state of the business, people, and culture.

Dee: The “Terrain”

Armies often must utilize the terrain as leverage to gain advantage over the enemy. HR teams must understand the full “terrain”, or capability, of the workforce and how each employee can be used to gain competitive advantage within the market. Are employees positioned in roles that emphasize their strengths? Are assessments performed prior to hiring to ensure the correct competency profile is being hired? If employees are not performing to their capacity, then they will not be engaged and both the company and individual lose.

Fa: The “Discipline”

Great products or services are created by great business systems, and great business systems are driven by great people processes. The “Discipline” refers to both the systems used and the strict execution of those systems. HR professionals should partner with Ops managers to ensure that business systems both maximize business output while simultaneously minimizing the human effort “input”. Extraneous input with minimal output will cause tension and conflict within your organization.

Jiang: The “Commander”

Employees do not leave companies, they leave leaders. The Art and Science of leadership has enormous influence on productivity, culture, and retention. HR professionals should always consider the impact leadership has on all conflict within the company, develop a special development plan focused specifically on leadership.


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