Every workplace will undoubtedly experience conflict. Whether it is a conflict situation between colleagues or a dispute between a customer and a service provider, conflict is inevitable. Therefore, it is vital to have conflict resolution skills to mitigate the conflict between the involved parties as professionals.
Conflict management skills are an essential skill set for managers, particularly those in small businesses where conflicts could impact the office environment or hinder the company’s goals. Of course, how you handle disagreements will vary depending on your preferences, your personality and your experience as a manager. Still, there are a series of conflict resolution strategies that you can use to help you manage and resolve disagreements. When managing conflict in the workplace, you can find yourself in a situation where emotions between staff members are high, relationships are damaged, and employees are unhappy and unmotivated. Good management is about providing support, showing assertiveness, improving relationships, resolving issues, and resolving conflict situations.
It is common to find conflict between stakeholders, staff members or customers in the workplace, particularly in a project management space. This is because projects often lead to change and uncertainty, which can heighten emotions and make people more sensitive to changes in their environment. This is why early stakeholder engagement, stakeholder analysis and a strong communications strategy are critical to successfully delivering projects. For example, suppose you are about to embark upon a project or are in the implementation phase, and you are finding lots of conflict situations arising. In that case, you may want to consider how you manage stakeholder engagement in the future.
The five conflict resolution strategies
There are five primary strategies for conflict resolution that you should consider when looking to resolve conflict at your workplace. Each method has its pros and cons, and the one you choose will depend wholly on the situation at hand and determine which strategy is likely to be the most effective. In this article, we review the five techniques in more detail. These strategies come from the Thomas Kilmann model, developed to show human beings’ natural approaches to conflict resolution. The model also discusses the fact that people use two modes to try and resolve conflict. These are assertiveness and cooperativeness. Each of the five conflict resolution strategies uses one or the other, or a combination of both. Individuals tend to prefer or favour one of the five strategies as their natural response to conflict.
Avoidance is a strategy of conflict resolution whereby one person avoids and ignores the conflict. This conflict resolution strategy is commonly found when the confrontation is very uncomfortable for the person involved. Whilst this may seem like the easiest method of conflict resolution, it does not resolve the issue at hand, and the conflict is likely to arise again. Furthermore, the avoidance strategy uses neither assertiveness nor cooperativeness. Therefore, it is not an advisable method to actively use. It will, however, be a strategy you see in the workplace very frequently. As a manager, if you identify that avoidance is relied upon to reduce conflict, you should approach the situation delicately and try to encourage a strategy that adopts a more cooperative approach.
Competing is a strategy of conflict resolution whereby each person aims to win. In this instance, two parties compete to win and are not looking to compromise or cooperate. This type of conflict resolution strategy requires assertiveness from each person and no cooperativeness. As you can imagine, when this strategy is adopted, only one person can get what they want. This inevitably leads to the conflict resurfacing, as the losing party will not be satisfied with the outcome.
Accommodating is a conflict resolution strategy whereby one person accommodates the requests or demands of the other party. While this can seem like an effective way to resolve conflict and reduce visible friction in the workplace, it can lead to conflict resurfacing at a later date. The accommodating person is not getting what they want. Frequently when a more dominant personality demands a change, the less confident person may wish to accommodate their demands as they are not confident communicators or want to keep the peace. Accommodating is about cooperativeness, but with too little assertiveness from the side of the accommodator.
Compromising is a strategy whereby an acceptable middle ground is identified. This solution will be partly satisfactory to both of the parties involved in the conflict. It is not the ideal solution as neither party gets what they want, but it can be considered fair in the workplace where no solution fully satisfies all parties involved in the conflict. Compromises are often used as a conflict resolution strategy, but if there is a way for the two parties to collaborate, this is the preferred and most effective approach.
Collaborating is the preferred conflict resolution strategy to use in the workplace. It allows all parties to give input and work together to develop a solution that they can agree with and that satisfies their own needs and the needs of their colleague. Collaboration is the preferred strategy for conflict resolution because it allows all parties involved to meet their requirements without compromising, accommodating, or competing. It provides for an equal combination of assertiveness and cooperativeness from everybody involved. It is the method with the highest success rate for resolving conflict and ensuring it does not reoccur later due to unmet needs. Team leaders can help facilitate conversations that develop collaboration between conflicting people.
A managers role in resolving conflict
As a manager in a workplace, particularly in an ever-changing environment, it is all too familiar for two or more parties to enter into a conflict situation. As a manager responsible for a problem over which two colleagues are fighting, it is best to face the conflict head-on and act as a neutral third party to encourage a constructive conversation. Managers must help find common ground between the team members and get to the root cause of the conflict.
Listen to both sides
The first and most critical step is to acknowledge and listen to the perspective of each person. It is crucial to practice active listening and show that you fully understand each team member’s views and know what their feelings are and why they are feeling this way. Reassure each person that you are a neutral third party and that you want to resolve the workplace conflict to foster a healthy relationship between all parties and reach a positive outcome. To show you are practising active listening, use the correct body language; give eye contact, show you are listening by nodding and using facial expressions that show you empathise with their concerns. Please focus on the root cause of the disagreements and the emotions it has brought up. At this stage, do not suggest solutions until you have fully understood the dispute from both sides.
Identify the cause of the conflict
Once you have spoken to each party involved in the conflict, you can identify the underlying problem. You may find the dispute has a simple solution, but the frustration around the disagreement is what has fuelled the majority of the conflict. Both parties may be angry and sensitive to criticism or maybe looking to blame the other for the cause of the disagreement rather than looking for healthy ways to mediate. As the manager, once you have identified the cause of the conflict, it will be much easier for you to facilitate a healthy conversation and identify solutions.
Ask each party for a preferred solution
Whilst listening to each person’s point of view, you should ask them how they could improve the situation and resolve it. Listen to their words carefully and assess their body language to identify whether their solution is constructive and whether it leads to an outcome that satisfies both parties. It is perfectly plausible that they may have good ideas, but both sides have resisted suggestions due to a damaged relationship.
Assess and suggest a change
You can now suggest solutions that you feel will benefit each party whilst also considering the organisational goals. If intense emotions are at play, you must communicate with empathy and show each team member that you have carefully considered their point of view. Your goal is to focus on problem-solving to foster a healthy relationship. Using a calm tone and concentrating on your nonverbal communication, you can demonstrate that you have carefully considered their needs and your own needs and that of the company.
Agree on a way forward
Once you have identified a solution that suits both people, you need to get them to agree. It is an excellent idea to develop a constructive plan if tensions arise in the future. Each party should forgive the other at this stage, and all pressure should be relieved. If one party is still angry deep down, this will not resolve the conflict. They should talk openly, describe their feelings and agree that the conflict at work will no longer be an issue. Please pay attention to how they both view the dispute and ensure they do not avoid dealing with any actions they take away from the meeting.
How to resolve conflict in a real-life scenario
For the article, let us use an example to show how you can use conflict resolution skills in a real-life scenario. You are a Project Manager who is managing two teams in a small business. One employee from one of the teams has expressed to you that they are unhappy with a colleague’s behaviour in the other team. They have accused the employee of starting arguments during meetings over the scoring of a risk that they feel is too high. The employee who has raised the issue tells you that they have tried to agree and negotiate a slight reduction in the risk scoring but that they must hold their ground as they do not think the other employee is correct. Both people are now angry and are unable to communicate on a professional level. The disagreement between them directly affects the broader teams, who have started to fear conflict in every cross-team meeting. In the first instance, you listen actively to their concerns, which helps give you a better understanding of their current relationship.
To solve the problem, you first talk to the other person and get their side of the story. Whilst having a conversation with the other person, you practice active listening and find out that there are many past conflicts between these two people, and the scoring of the risk is not the problem at all. Instead, the issue traces its origins to previous disagreements between the two members of staff. At first, the second person is not interested in resolving the problem and does not feel that the issue warrants a mediation. You explain to them that although you empathise with their situation, it is essential to resolve conflict in the workplace and work with you to improve the work environment for all team members. Finally, after highlighting how the dispute is making others feel, the person agrees to work out a way to resolve the conflict.
You review the conflict resolution strategies available to you and decide that collaboration is the correct strategy to use here. You set up a meeting with both people and outline what you understand to be the problem. You identify that there are feelings of anger on both sides and that this is causing disputes over minor project issues. You explain to each person that the business cannot function without resolving this conflict and that you want to support both of them. Achieving this requires honesty from both sides and an understanding of each other’s feelings and emotions. They manage to talk openly about their disagreements, and they agree that they need to move on from their past workplace conflicts.
This example shows the correct way to handle conflict and allows employees to work towards a solution collaboratively.
Conflict resolution skills
Conflicts are inevitable at work, particularly team conflict. It is vital to manage this type of behaviour as managers. Fostering a positive work culture can be hugely empowering, improving productivity and increasing motivation.
As a manager, view conflict as a way to improve your core skills. Your own needs can be met as part of conflict management, as well as the needs of your business. It can be hard to manage relationships and find a resolution that benefits all people. Still, by using the proper conflict resolution strategy, you can reduce workplace conflict, reduce hurt feelings and build strong working relationships in your team and the wider organisation. Identifying the cause of the problem is half of the battle and using assertiveness to create and then deliver a solution that works for all people involved is the best way forward to resolve conflict.
Conflict is inevitable. It’s how you handle it that matters
Elite provides expert conflict resolution training to organisations worldwide, helping them train staff to manage and constructively resolve conflicts. Our trainers are experts in their field, with years of experience working for some of the most prestigious companies worldwide. They know what works, and they know what doesn’t work when it comes to resolving conflict – so if your organisation requires assistance, we can help you develop the skills needed for successful conflict resolution.
We offer bespoke packages designed specifically for your organisation’s needs – whether that be one-off sessions or ongoing support – our team will tailor a package just for you! Whether you need an experienced trainer on-site or want us to run courses remotely, we’ll make sure everything runs smoothly from start to finish.
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