Conflict is bound to occur in both our personal and professional lives. It is part of human nature, yet most of us would prefer to prevent it. As mentioned in my previous article on Introverts and Extroverts, we work with many different personalities, and each one has his or her own set of unique expectations. For a leader in today’s workplace, it is critical to be able to identify impending conflict, and move swiftly to resolve the matter before it escalates further.
Whether the issue is between co-workers, an issue with a dissatisfied customer, or an impasse in contract negotiations, addressing negativity and conflict in a positive, professional manner can salvage (and even improve) relationships, increase workplace morale, and increase productivity, both individually, and across an organization. A heated situation that is resolved diplomatically and effectively will greatly improve leadership skills and respect as well.
Most Common Conflict Resolution Strategies
The vast majority of the time, we see several common conflict resolution strategies. These may include:
Accommodating – The accommodating strategy entails giving the opposing side what it wants. The use of accommodation often occurs when one of the parties wishes to keep the peace, or perceives the issue as minor. This can easily develop into resentment for opposing parties.
Avoiding – This is one of the LEAST effective methods! Those who actively avoid conflict frequently often have low esteem, or hold a position of low power.
The avoidance strategy seeks to put off conflict indefinitely. By delaying or ignoring the conflict, the avoider hopes the problem resolves itself without a confrontation. We all know this almost never works, and the problem often scales as a result.
Collaborating – Collaboration works by integrating ideas set out by multiple people. The object is to find a creative solution acceptable to everyone. Collaboration, though useful, calls for a significant time commitment not appropriate to all types of conflicts.
Compromising – The compromising strategy typically calls for both sides of a conflict to give up elements of their position in order to establish an acceptable, if not agreeable, solution. This strategy prevails most often in conflicts where the parties hold approximately equivalent power.
Competing – Competition operates as a zero-sum game, in which one side wins and the other loses. This strategy if often utilized by highly assertive personalities, and may be effective in some situations of conflict, such as an emergency situation.
Obviously, there are some redeeming qualities to each of the above methods, though each one is only applicable to certain situations. The following section outlines a general protocol for addressing conflict in the workplace that can be applied to many situations.
Taking Steps to Resolve Workplace Conflict
There are key steps to ensure that workplace conflict is handled both fairly and effectively. We have identified some key steps to follow to ensure a conflict is handled thoroughly, and all parties involved feel part of the solution:
Create a Neutral Environment for Both Parties.
Create an environment where each party involved can feel comfortable providing his or her side of the story. This needs to be an environment free of office politics – where there is a feeling of mutual respect. Listen carefully, and be sure to separate the “issue” from the “person” (and guide each party to do so as well). Easy solutions may not be obvious until they have been verbalized, so be sure to document the entire situation. Restate phrases so that the issues are clear and understood correctly.
Gather Additional Information.
There is often more to the story than meets the eye. Investigate beyond the surface to uncover the root of the concerns or points of view. Practice makes perfect in this scenario! Depending on your role and level of training, investigation expertise will be honed over time. Is the root cause due to differing personalities? Are the two co-workers from different departments with differing goals? Is this a case of workplace competition? Be objective and try to see both sides from the person’s point of view. Try to address one issue at a time. Trying to solve too many at once will further complicate the matter. Determine the most pertinent issue and address it first. Be sure to clarify feelings – don’t assume a person’s perspective without certainty.
When discussing the issue with both parties, be sure that each individual agrees to what the problem is. When discussing your findings, be sure to use objective statements utilizing “I” phrases, rather than “you”. Discuss differences in each individual and allow each party to identify and appreciate the differences that are present. People perceive problems differently, and allow each party to understand and verbalize their opinion and the problem at hand.
Allow for Input.
Once the issue is agreed upon and individual differences and perspectives are recognized, brainstorm solutions. This establishes some common ground, and allows everyone involved to feel that they are part of the resolution. Allow for openness, as long as it is respectful. List every idea, and have an objective party edit the ideas. Expand upon others’ ideas by asking for input or additional details. Move quickly – the more ideas the better. Be creative – something that sounds silly at first may be brilliant!
- Devise a Solution.Take the brainstorming ideas and devise a custom solution to the issue. Everyone involved should understand the other’s position at this point, but may not completely agree. That said, it may be necessary to step in and negotiate a mutually satisfying agreement, and determine clear responsibilities each party will have in the resolution. Both parties may not feel completely vindicated, but will ultimately have respect for a leader that made a decision based on mutual respect and objective information.
Conflict in the workplace is a natural occurrence, and when handled professionally and respectfully, can even strengthen workplace cultures. Identifying types of conflict resolution styles, and modifying them for effectiveness, will build stronger leaders and more cohesive teams. Training managers in basic mediation techniques will assist in eliminating issues early on, and allow for more effective time management in all departments.
For more information on Conflict Resolution in the Workplace, please refer to the following books:
Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace, by Kathy Obear, Ed. D.
The Conflict Resolution Training Program: Leader’s Manual, by Prudence B. Kestner and Larry Ray
The Complete Guide to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace, by Marick F. Masters and Robert Albright
by Natalie Lemons
Natalie Lemons is the President of the Resilience Group, LLC, and the author of The Resilient Recruiter. Please follow her blog for more articles like this, plus helpful free downloads for recruiters or those starting a Recruiting business. Resilient Recruiter is an Amazon Associate.
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