Where there are people, there is conflict. It’s in the nature of humankind to have different views, interests, and desires from those around us. While most of the time these differences help us grow and make our lives richer, sometimes they can create gaps and lead to conflicts. Here’s why conflict management matters.
Personal life conflicts eventually end either in compromise and forgiveness or push people apart forever. But in the workplace things are a bit different. You can’t just turn your back to the other person and stop talking to them or taking their phone calls. You are still going to see the other person every day and interact with them as the job requires.
Sometimes, work conflicts can even put a pin in a project and harm the whole team, or even the entire company. For this reason, all good leaders should have some conflict management techniques up their sleeve. To help that endeavor, in this article we’ve gathered some advice that should help you put off those fires before anyone gets hurt.
Even though conflict crises might be sudden and unexpected, that is rarely the case. In most situations, there are warning signs that precede the crisis, but people either don’t see them or ignore the red flags.
Leaders need to be proactive and put out the fires before things blow up. If you notice a tense relationship between two members of the team, or small but frequent conflicts happening between the same people, those are the red flags you need to act upon. Talk things out together with all the parties involved and make sure they won’t lead to a crisis.
Choose an approach
There are five main approaches for conflict management and ultimately conflict resolution. Depending on the context, here are the main choices you have in dealing with things:
In most instances, avoidance is the easiest way out of the conflict. You can just choose to avoid interacting with the other party, ignore the rumors and move on with your life looking the other way.
While most people terrified of confrontation prefer this approach, it certainly isn’t a valid option in all cases. You can’t avoid or ignore someone you closely work with and interact with on a daily basis.
The opposite of avoidance, confrontation requires you to jump right in and put all the cards on the table. While confrontation can be a quick way to put out a fire, there is always a risk for things to go wrong.
Confrontation means discussing the problem openly without being aggressive towards the other part.
One party sometimes caves and decides to accommodate the others even at the risk of their own benefits. While some people find this solution viable on the moment, in the long run it risks generating resentment and hard feelings.
Unlike accommodation, the compromise strategy requires both parties to take a step back and make concessions. Nobody wins and nobody loses.
When using this conflict management technique, there might be temporary hard feelings but in the long run those will fade away.
This is the most desirable approach in conflict management, since it creates bridges instead of burning them. Parties involved in a conflict decide to collaborate instead of attacking each other so that everyone gets the best possible outcome out of it.
Set clear rules
Conflicts are sensitive matters that one can rarely afford to play by the ear. Sure, it’s OK to follow your guts but there is always a risk that things will spin out of control.
Every company should have a set of rules for conflict resolution that guides staff and managers through conflict management. These rules are meant to help with solving the issue while providing assurance that everyone is being treated fairly.
The conflict management rules should cover a wide array of situations and a set of best practices for each of those.
Practice your listening skills
In tense situations, such as work conflicts, people tend to speak more than they listen. More often than not, the roots of the conflict resides in poor communication or, more likely, a mutual refusal to listen. If you take upon the role of managing the conflict, be prepared to listen more than talk, while also encouraging the persons involved to listen and try to understand each other.
Turn a pen into a talking stick and have each of them take turns sharing their side of the story.
Avoid assigning blame
Conflicts are rarely one-sided. You know what they say, it takes two to tango. But even if you feel like one party is in the wrong, in conflict management assigning blame or taking sides should be avoided.
Instead, work with the parties involved to make them realize what they’ve done wrong and help them find ways to make things.
Stick to the facts
Don’t bring personal faults or character treats into discussion. You might be thinking that John is generally a rude person but that’s not something you should say out loud.
Rather make John see how his actions affect other people by focusing on the feelings of the other parts involved in the conflict. Telling John straight to his face that he’s being rude will antagonize and put him in a defensive position, which means building walls. Just the opposite of what conflict management should do, which is tearing down walls and helping people see eye to eye on some matters.
Find common ground
The ultimate goal in conflict management is finding common ground. Bringing people to choose the collaborative approach. You can do that by removing the negative parts that led to the conflict in the first place and focusing on the shared goals, interests and ideas.
Remind the parties at conflict that working together will bring a lot more benefits than tearing each other down. This might not be an easy task, nor something that can be accomplished on the spot. However, a good conflict manager will know how to bring peace and have people put aside their differences.
Remember it’s not the end
Workplace conflicts are sensitive matters that need to be taken seriously. However, they are a natural part of our society and, as unpleasant as they can get, sometimes conflicts actually help us grow.
So being involved in a conflict or being involved in putting down a conflict shouldn’t feel like the end of all things. Because it rarely is.