Conflict Management Techniques: Finding a Balance

conflict management techniquesContrary to popular belief, conflict is not always a negative thing. Conflict can lead to creative  solutions for a difficult problem or alternatives to arriving at a certain goal. The most important aspect is to have conflict management techniques to be able to keep the conflict to a low and healthy level. To get started, check out our course, a Guide To Conflict Resolution.

Take for example, the words of William Elllery Channing, “Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” Accordingly, conflict should invite challenge and progress, not negativity. “Don’t fight, use your words.” I’m sure you’ve heard it said before or said it yourself to a child in conflict. So today, that’s precisely what we are going to do, “use our words” to manage conflict!

Conflict resolution involves the ability to reduce or get rid of conflict altogether. What we want is not always to resolve conflict, but rather, to manage it. The five main conflict management techniques are called competing, compromising, collaborating, smoothing and withdrawing. Each is a different approach that can be used to manage a given situation. You must use your best judgment because every approach will not work on the same problem, there are some that will be better suited than others.

1. Competing

Competing, also known as “forcing,” involves a scenario where one individual heavily pushes their own ideas and concerns, regardless of the resistance of the other side. It’s the “my way or the highway” type of approach. This typically results in one idea being forcibly strengthened, at the expense of the other. This approach is most effective when your personal goals are higher priority than personal relationships.

This method is useful where collaboration or compromise are not effective or when you need to stick up for yourself and your perspective. Additionally, this method is proper when you need a very speedy resolution to the problem and there is a valid reason for use of force. A valid reason for use of force might be to stop violence or aggression, or even a life-threatening situation. Finally, if all other methods fail, competing can always be used as a last resort to end a long-standing problem.

This method has both positive and negative aspects to it. While it is a quick resolution that boosts self esteem and builds respect, it could also have a negative effect on your relationship with your adversary in the future, it can cause great resistance, and it drains a lot of energy. There are no guarantees that it will be successful, especially when it comes to the other person’s strong points.

2. Compromising

Compromising is about finding a quick and mutually agreeable resolution that makes both parties happier. Generally, both parties will win a small victory and lose a small battle as well. Both parties leave partially satisfied, but neither party is completely happy. This approach appeals to humans because each side understands that the other side is sacrificing as well and that you have to give a little to get a little. This approach is most effective when you are willing to give something up, so long as they are too.

A compromising technique is suited for when the goals are important, but only moderately. In this instance, it is not worth the effort of more involved approaches, such as collaborating or competing. This approach will provide a temporary or expedient agreement on complex issues. This approach also works where the two adversarial parties are not familiar with one another and do not trust one another. Finally, this approach may work where collaboration or competing fails.

Some of the benefits of this techniques include a speedy resolution and minimal animosity and stress in the confrontation. This can also be a temporary solution while the parties figure out a more sustainable, win-win answer. However, this may mean that neither party feels adequately satisfied with the outcome. It may appear to be a lose-lose situation and it does not necessarily build trust over time. Further, both parties may have to be monitored closely, to ensure that they stick to the agreement.

3. Collaborating

Collaborating, or problem solving, involves attempting to work side-by-side with the adversary to agree upon a solution that is win-win. Both parties should be equally addressed and satisfied. This is an ‘I win, you win’ technique. This is often the best way to resolve a conflict. Conflict management is not just a problem to be dealt with, it can be seen as an opportunity to find a mutually beneficial solution. The steps include finding the underlying concerns and goals of each party, then finding some option that both parties can benefit from. This approach is most effective when you are looking for an amicable, mutually acceptable solution.

Collaborating is a proper technique when the agreement and relationship of the parties is important. When managing people of different ages, check out the following class that’s beneficial when Reducing Generational Conflict. If the environment encourages collaboration or where there is a high level of trust, collaboration is the best approach. If there are interests of multiple parties or a long term relationship is on the line, this technique should be used. This is also an option where the parties need to work through problems they have with one another, including animosity or distrust.

Collaborating can be a useful tool because it generally yields a solution to the actual problem, it leads to a win-win resolution, and it increases trust and respect between the two parties. Both parties feel a sense of involvement and responsibility for the outcome. This will also help build bridges of communication for future collaboration and negotiation. The stress is generally at a minimal level here because both parties feel in control and satisfied with the outcome. On the other hand, both parties need to fully commit to the solution and understand that finding the win-win solution may be very difficult. This process can sometimes be lengthy and if there is any doubt in the ability to trust one party, all bets are off.

4. Smoothing

Smoothing, or accommodating, is conceding your own concerns, in favor of the concerns of others first. This approach is sometimes necessary when there is an important deadline to meet. If time is of the essence, check out our article on how to Resolve Conflict In 1 Day. It could be a temporary solution to a difficult problem. Additionally, if you are not as interested in the outcome as the other party, you may want a simple solution. If you are in a position where you come to the conclusion that you were wrong, this approach will allow you to admit the other party was correct and salvage the relationship. Finally, if you are left without any other options, or you feel that you are suffering as a result of continued debate, this technique offers a way out. This option is most effective where you are willing to sacrifice to avoid confrontation.

You may be interested in this conflict management approach to concede small losses in order to win a bigger victory in another realm. Also, you may gain a valuable perspective from conceding certain points. On the other side, this may make you look weak if you consistently give in. The opposing party may begin to abuse that power and take advantage of you. Just as in anything, there needs to be a balance. Unfortunately though, an accommodating approach will make it difficult to be assertive in the future and take a competing approach. This may also affect confidence in the person conceding and their outward appearance.

5. Withdrawing

The last approach is withdrawing, or avoiding, whereby a person does not address the conflict at all. You simply postpone or withdraw from the conflict. This is similar to the actions of a turtle, that simply hides in its shell when trouble arises! This approach is effective where you believe that avoiding or delaying the conflict may help resolve it in the long run.

If the issue is unimportant overall, then expending effort may not be wise, so ignoring the dispute may work. Additionally, if there are more pressing issues to handle, time must be spent on those instead, so an avoidance technique may be appropriate. Further, there are times where a delay is more beneficial to your party or where you need more time to process and decide upon a solution. If it is unrealistic to think that the problem will be resolved in your favor, or that you would need to deal with negative interactions, withdrawing could be advantageous. While it is a low stress approach, it can also be detrimental to your relationship with the other party and it could affect interactions in the future.

Conflict is a natural part of our lives and it will continue to be for the rest of life. As such, it is important to not only address it, but use it creatively to our advantage. Conflict arises in a child who learns for the first time that he or she cannot always get what he or she wants. A teen may experience conflict by getting into a disagreement with a friend. Adults are all too familiar with conflict, in the workplace, at home, and in social environments as well. The important thing, is learning to manage it. For more information on conflict management in daily life and in your career, try taking a look at Conflict Resolution in Your Workplace and Beyond.