Yelling, sarcasm and avoidance are typical reactions from individuals experiencing conflict. Everyone is different in how they communicate and how they deal with tense situations. Most of us don’t like to be in the midst of a disagreement with someone, especially when we have to work with that person or group every day. So what are the best methods of conflict resolution? Learn how to resolve conflict in one day in the course Conflict Resolution. There are other key strategies deployed by experts in the field of conflict management and we’ll cover them here.
Conflict can be disheartening, it can be frustrating and sometimes it can just be funny. It really depends on how you approach the situation and how you use your communication skills to diffuse the feud. If you watch T.V., chances are you’ve watched a sitcom or two and have noticed that a lot of the plots contain conflict between two roles, or groups of people on the show. It keeps us interested because we want to know how they will resolve the issues and of course – we’re always hoping for a happy ending. Much like on film, people experience conflict in their everyday lives however, it can be difficult to utilize humor or other sitcom-like tactics to wiggle your way out of a tough situation. What can be taken from these shows, however, is that conflict is common and so is resolution. There are ways to reduce conflict though, and you can learn what they are in the course Reducing General Conflict.
Before we swan dive into strategies to overcome conflict I think it’s important to dissect communication type characteristics. When you understand the different ways in which people internalize dialogue and thus, how they respond, you can better utilize the strategies we will discuss to resolve issues that pop up. In the course Naked Impact: Workplace Communication learn proven practical methods to effective communication.
The passive communicator is that friend or co-worker who is always rather apathetic about just about everything. They don’t care what job they are assigned, they don’t care if they have to work overtime, they have no input or output regarding anything. They just go with the flow often this can be quite detrimental to a team atmosphere and deflating to their ego. It’s not uncommon for passive communicators to have low self-esteem and feel that their wants or wishes aren’t even worth the effort of opening their mouth to let them out. Confrontation is not their strong point. They also sometimes have deep anxiety which can contribute to their lack of assertiveness – and vice versa. If you are one of these people, it’s okay! Check out the tutorial Improve Communication to overcome the struggle of confrontation and expressing your ideas effectively.
This type of communicator can be the most difficult to work with. They may say that they’ll work overtime but then show signs of irritability and discomfort as they fulfill the task they openly agreed to do. Someone who operates like this can be confusing for others and create internal and external conflict because they don’t even understand their own boundaries. It’s often called the “martyr complex”. The passive-aggressive person will use sarcasm and say things they don’t necessarily mean because they want to appear in compliance to avoid conflict, when really, the negativity oozing from them is palpable.
The aggressive communicator will go to great lengths to establish their boundaries and make sure their wants and needs are known – at almost any expense. They can become verbally abusive, violent and never take responsibility for their actions. They can come across as disrespectful and will do everything they can – even create conflict – to ensure that they are comfortable.
The most healthy communication type is to be assertive. This means you know what you want and you aren’t afraid to ask for it, but you also respect the opinions and desires of others. They will apologize when an apology is due but stand their ground when others are at fault. They don’t have trouble saying “no” and they seek to resolve conflict in a civil manner.
Okay, now that we understand the kind of people that make up your work environment or friend group we can better interpret conflict management strategies. Below is a conflict management model that represents the different kinds of conflict management avenues you can take. Notice how closely these strategies align with the different types of communication characteristics.
There are a number of strategies from which to choose:
Collaborating should occur if both parties involved are determined to see that their way is the highway. Let’s say that your co-worker wants to hold a monthly meeting for the marketing team and you want to hold a weekly meeting to keep the team on task. Instead of one party getting their way and the other party’s wishes being ignored, a collaborative approach entails talking about both options and finding a way to meet both needs. In this situation, you and your co-worker may agree to hold weekly meetings and then one large monthly progress meeting. This approach is not always feasible as it requires willingness to cooperate and an environment of trust and respect to discuss openly and honestly about the benefits and detriments of each side. This approach to conflict management will produce a win-win outcome which is obviously desirable.
Tips for collaborating:
- Establish trust by being open and honest about why you feel the way you do.
- Show respect by listening, without interruption, and ask questions to better understand their point-of-view.
- Promote equality by explaining you want to see both desires met and begin working towards this.
- Stay positive and don’t fake it – it shows.
- Remain focused on the goals, and not personal differences.
This is not a favorable solution to conflict, however, it can be necessary in some situations. Competition is also known as forcing, where one individual feels they absolutely have to continue pushing for their viewpoint even if it means creating enemies and tension along the way. This may seem like creating conflict instead of resolving it, but in situations that need a quick resolution or when you need to stand up for personal safety or morals this strategy can be useful.
For instance, in a life or death situation, there is no time for reaching compromise or collaborating for the most practical approach. You need to make a quick and assertive decision that you feel is the best for the long-term outcome. Or, maybe a conflict has been going on for far too long and no other method seems to be working. Use your best judgment and make a decision to put an end to the stand-off. Sometimes this kind of action can draw respect from those around you, but only if you use leadership skills – as diplomatically as you can – to effectively implement a plan of resolution. In the course Compelling Communication learn how to influence and persuade people in an ethical manner to join your side.
Tips for forcing a solution:
- Be assertive without being overly aggressive. Communicate your reasons as best as possible and stand firm with your decision. Be prepared for others to do the same.
- Discuss how the other options may work better under different circumstances, but for the time being this is the best and only option applicable.
- Stay positive and confident so those around you follow suit. If you show any sign of uncertainty those you are trying to convince will not give in easily, or at all.
- Be professional. If you are in a role of authority it’s important to remain a leader and not turn into a “boss”.
- Have a plan ready to put into action. Don’t just say “this is the way it is”. Say, “this is the best option given our situation and here’s what we’re going to do”. Delegate tasks to get the job accomplished efficiently.
When mutual goals are at stake those involved will likely be open to reaching an amicable agreement. When you compromise a solution to a conflict you are likely to come to a quicker and more widely-accepted answer which will benefit everyone involved. Thus, the plan reached will be acted on without resentment or delay. This is the “win some – lose some” strategy. Compromise is important in all facets of life, if you lack the ability to meet-in-the-middle you will experience a lot of tension and negativity. Forcing is a necessary means to an end, but compromise is a mutual means to an end.
Use compromising tactics if you are unsure of the people you are in conflict with. Without trust, collaborative efforts can be difficult, and forcing is nearly impossible. Imagine someone you don’t know telling you what’s best and what’s not. Why would you trust them? Compromising is a good way to involve everyone’s idea and to learn from each other while establishing a relationship. Compromise is also a good temporary stepping-stone on the way to a more collaborative approach. It can prevent long-term conflict where nothing gets accomplished.
Tips for compromising:
- Communication is key. Understand what the other is proposing and ensure that they know what you’re thinking. If you don’t effectively communicate your ideas, how will they ever be met?
- Take a second to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Why are they feeling the way they are feeling? It may help you come to a better, balanced solution to the problem.
- Discuss the outcomes of each scenario. “If we go with option A this is what the process will look like and this is what outcome we can expect. If we go with option B we can expect…” You may come to a conclusion before even reaching a compromise.
- Acknowledge that compromise isn’t always split down the middle, 50-50. Getting part of what you want is better than getting nothing, right? Maybe next time the decision will be in your favor.
Some fights just aren’t worth having. If the topic being argued over is trivial or simply not worth the effort you may just decide to withdrawal from the conflict all together. This happens a lot in the work place and in personal relationships. It’s often coined “pick your battles”, and it’s true. You may as well conserve your energy for something worth fighting for. You may use this strategy if there are other issues of more importance to deal with first, or when the time and place isn’t right to come to a resolution. Perhaps you need to collect more information before pursuing a resolution. It’s also possible that you are faced with someone utilizing the competition strategy in which case it is pointless to try and speak-up. Another example would be if you are too involved in the situation to see objectively.
Tips for avoidance:
- Back-down. Really, it’s all you can do.
- Explain that you have other things to focus on and that you trust the others to come up with a viable solution.
Some of us are better at this than others. People who work in caregiving professions are exceptionally good at accommodating during conflict. They realize that their concerns or problems are not as important as the concerns of someone else. Accommodating is also popular in customer service roles as many companies have the “customer is always right” mentality. When a customer is arguing with you over something your job is to accommodate their needs. This strategy is also appropriate to use when you realize you are wrong. Smoothing over the situation by “giving in” can be beneficial to the relationship or team you are working with by creating an environment of peace. It also provides temporary relief while you collect yourself and try to come up with an even better solution. Be careful with accommodation though, you are at high risk of being abused and it may bruise your confidence a bit. Learn healthy boundaries and assertiveness skills in the course Communication and Assertiveness.
Tips for accommodation:
- Exhibit compliance with the situation in a professional manner. To maintain your confidence, you can explain why you agree and leave out the reasons you don’t. This shows others that you aren’t passive, you’re just accepting.
- Differentiate between times that accommodating is necessary and when you’re input may be truly valuable to the discussion.
To understand how you communicate and how you react in conflict do some self-assessments. What are your knee-jerk responses to a disagreement? Read more about these conflict management styles in Today’s Workplace.