When we work with others, we will disagree from time-to-time; it is a perfectly natural part of human interaction; the important thing is what we do about it when it occurs.
In this module we will look at how each of us responds and deals with conflict, as well as consider constructive ways to prevent and resolve interpersonal and team conflicts through proven conflict management styles and techniques.
There are a lot of different definitions of what conflict in the workplace actually is but it can be broadly defined as disagreements between two or more people due to work issues or personal incompatibilities.
Conflict can range in intensity from minor differences of opinion with little to no negative emotion involved, to major conflicts which involve strong negative emotions (e.g. anger, frustration, jealousy, anxiety, fear etc.) and strong negative behaviour (e.g. arguing, back-stabbing, sabotaging/interfering, being aggressive etc.).
In this section we'll explore the understanding of conflict management in the workplace.
Within the science of conflict management it is commonly accepted that there are five different styles (listed below) that people tend to use when dealing with conflict. Generally people will have one or two preferred ways of dealing with conflict and may default to these conflict management styles. However, the idea is to become familiar with all styles of conflict resolution and use the style that is best for the situation.
Did you know...
The concept of conflict styles was first conceived back in the 1960s and many different models have been created over the years to explain the concept - the most well-known being the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Inventory, which is the basis for this module. The main models are all largely the same and the names for the styles can be used interchangeably.
Active listening is the process of listening and clarifying information to ensure mutual understanding - and it's an essential tool in conflict resolution.
When you use active listening it helps you to get a clear understanding of the other person's issues, perspectives and emotions, which in turn helps you to develop better options for resolution. It also helps the other person to feel that they have been heard and understood, which builds rapport and can help you de-escalate emotionally charged situations.
Managing your emotions
Conflict can involve powerful negative emotions and can cause people to engage in negative behaviour that escalates conflict and damages relationships.
It is extremely important that when you find yourself in a conflict situation, that you can recognise how you are feeling and take steps to regulate your emotions to remain in control. In fact, studies have shown that people who are better able to regulate their emotions are also better at resolving conflict.
Assertiveness is the ability to stand up for your rights and express your needs and concerns without infringing on the rights of others. Assertiveness is often confused with aggressiveness, but they are two very different approaches.
Aggressiveness means intimidating, threatening, blaming and generally stepping on people without regard for their feelings - both approaches seek to address your own needs, but assertiveness does it without infringing on the rights of others.
Pre-emptive conflict management
Pre-emptive conflict management is about trying to reduce conflict or control the way that conflict is handled before it actually occurs.
If you can minimise the causes of conflict and ensure that your team members engage in positive conflict management behaviours when conflicts arise, you can reduce the frequency and intensity of team conflicts.
When conflicts occur between team members, and the team members are unable to resolve the conflict themselves, you may need to step in and mediate the conflict.
Mediation is where a third party comes in and helps to resolve the dispute. The role of the mediator is to facilitate an open conversation about issues and needs and move the parties involved towards a solution.
Mapping a conflict
Mapping the conflict is about documenting (mapping) the different needs and perspectives of the parties involved in the conflict. This allows you to see the conflict from all angles and helps you to develop better solutions.
Mapping is a useful exercise if you are faced with a complex conflict situation (e.g. lots of stakeholders / lots of needs to consider), a volatile situation where the parties have reached a stalemate, or you just want to get a better understanding of the conflict.
How we can help
Whether you're leading a team or looking for help with conflict management across your organisation, we have a range of solutions for you.
Leadership Success can help deal with conflict management in your organisation with the help of our Leadership Assessments or help improve conflict management skills of staff through bespoke Leadership Development Programmes