Winning The War On Workplace Conflict
Conflict in the workplace is a fact of life. Our goal should not be to try and remove it altogether, but to manage it.
We’ve all seen situations where different people with different goals and needs have come into conflict. And we’ve all seen the often intense personal animosity that can result. In my early career, the absence of any effective conflict management skills created stress and unease that sabotaged my results and made life miserable.
The fact that conflict exists, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as it is managed effectively, it can lead to personal, professional and practice growth. In many cases, effective conflict resolution can make the difference between positive and negative outcomes.
The good news is that by resolving conflict successfully, you can solve many of the problems that it has brought to the surface, as well as getting benefits that you might not at first expect:
The discussion needed to resolve conflict expands awareness, giving everyone an insight into how they can achieve their goals without undermining others.
When conflict is resolved effectively, stronger mutual respect abounds, and a renewed ability to work together develops.
Conflict pushes you to examine your goals in closely, helping you understand the things that are most important to you, sharpening focus, and enhancing your effectiveness.
However, if conflict is handled ineffectively, the results can be very damaging. Conflicting goals can quickly turn into personal dislike. Teamwork breaks down. Time and talent are wasted as people disengage from their work.
Understanding Conflict Styles
In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five main styles of dealing with conflict. They argued that people typically have a preferred conflict resolution style.
However they also noted that different styles were most useful in different situations. They developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) which helps you to identify which style you lean towards when conflict arises.
Figure 1: Thomas and Kilmann’s styles
People who tend towards a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability.
People tending towards a collaborative style try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike their competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important.
People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something, and the compromiser him or herself also expects to relinquish something.
This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative.
People tending towards this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Once you understand the different styles, you can use them to think about the most appropriate approach (or mixture of approaches) for the situation you’re in. You can also think about your own instinctive approach, and learn how you need to change this if necessary.
Ideally you can adopt an approach that meets the situation, resolves the problem, respects people’s legitimate interests, and mends damaged working relationships.
Keys to Effective Conflict Resolution
1: Use Your Logical Brain:
Focusing on the issue rather than the person is crucial. To do this we must allow the Neo Cortex (logical brain) to lead rather than allow the Amygdala (a power broker in the Limbic emotional brain) hijack our efforts to seek a resolution.
2: Always Seek A Win Win:
You may win the battle however the war may go on forever. Your goal should be to brainstorm possible solutions that will allow everyone to move forward in a positive direction.
3: Call In Switzerland:
When your best efforts to master keys 1 and 2 are less than effective, call in a neutral party who has no emotional attachment to the outcome to help facilitate a resolution.
By now you would have worked out that we all need to acquire these crucial skills. The challenge is which ones first and how do I get started. When you want some help finding out what to do next then give me a shout.