Q: Why is it advisable to pay attention to conflict management?

A: Customer centricity is at the core of consulting excellence; we wouldn't exist without the customers. This is true for outside consultants and those who consult for internal groups within an organization. If you are a consultant, you already know how conflict, internal or external, can kill a project or damage a relationship. Sometimes as consultants we get caught up in our own internal conflicts, making assumptions about the client and involved parties without having time to pause, think and reflect.

Conflict exists in many interactions throughout the day, whether it is in the workplace, home or at social events. It can be identified as intrapersonal (inner), interpersonal (with other people), intragroup (within a group) or intergroup (with other groups). It is important to recognize whether conflict is related to a task or a personal relationship. In both situations, conflict is costly in human and financial terms.

Conflict and negotiation are often thought of as two separate disciplines, when in reality one cannot be effective without having the necessary skills for the other. In negotiation one learns how to deal with situations using a win-win or integrative approach, creatively generating new ideas and going beyond the distributive model where one loses something to gain something else. It also shows empathy and understanding of others and allows one to identify the best alternatives and solutions.

As a consultant you need to create strong partnerships and turn potential adversaries into partners. William Ury in his book "Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations," suggests following what he calls the breakthrough strategy.

(1) Don't React: Go to the balcony: Control your own behavior and think of the impact on others; (2) Don't Argue: Step to their side: Create a favorable climate without negativity and deep understanding; (3) Don't Reject: Reframe: Change the game; direct attention to meeting both parties' interests; (4) Don't Push: Build them a golden bridge: Mediate and start the work or negotiation; (5) Don't Escalate: Use power to educate: Act as an educator; share information and be transparent.

Marcella de la Torre teaches courses at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.