Throughout your career, for one reason or another, it is inevitable that you will have to navigate conflict in the workplace. Everyone manages conflict differently, for some it makes them uncomfortable, others are able to have a frank discussion and put the issue to rest. When managed well, conflict can actually help build relationships and engender productive conversations. Your ability to manage conflict and your conflict resolution skills will be a crucial aspect of success in your career.
As an organisation or employer, it’s crucial to clearly set expectations with employees about how to handle conflict and practice those behaviours from a management level. Often the organisational values can guide these behaviours but a good place to start is to ensure resolution is approached ethically and respectfully by all parties.
Many firms and organisations have conflict resolution ground rules which provides a framework and keeps conversations objective. These can be circled back to during the conversation -examples of these can include:
·Working together to achieve a mutually acceptable solution
·Being respectful of each other, and refraining from personal insults and attacks
·Listenening to each other’s statements fully before responding.
When entering these discussions it’s crucial to carve out time away from others and distractions and ensure they take place in a physical space everyone feels comfortable in.
As you enter a conflict resolution discussion, establishing clear objectives from the start allows both sides to find common ground around the situation. Maintaining a positive attitude throughout these conversations will help to maintain trust and build respect. Often conflict can start at a surface level, making the objective difficult to define. Getting to the source of the conflict will provide more context and the ability to truly resolve the issue.
Conflict in the workplace requires different resolution styles. Researchers Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed the below 5 widely accepted styles of conflict resolution:
1. Collaborating - parties work together to develop a win-win solution. This approach promotes assertiveness and is useful when the conflict involves a large number of people or people across different teams. Appropriate for when the situation is not urgent as it can be time-consuming. Since it can take more time, should be reserved for important, non-trivial decisions.
2.Competing – A more aggressive style where one party in the conflict takes a firm stand. Fighting for power, the party typically wins, but is often seen as too aggressive, and can cause the other party in the conflict to feel stepped on. This can occur in emergencies where decisions must be made quickly, or an unpopular choice needs to be made. This style generally does not create a mutual understanding or a win-win situation, and the quick nature of it does not allow anyone to find the root cause. It should generally be avoided in conflicts that may bring up emotions or sensitivities or where you don’t want to risk long-term damage to the employment relationship.
3.Compromising – Each person in the conflict gives up something that contributes towards the conflict resolution. This style is appropriate for important but not urgent scenarios where resolving the conflict is more important than having each individual “win”. This can be the most effective approach in conflicts where there is equal power between both parties. This style is less effective for conflicts where a wide variety of important needs must be met or when there is a difference in power dynamics (e.g. between a junior lawyer and Partner). This style can take longer to work through so it also not ideal for when urgent decisions need to be made.
4.Accommodating - One of the most passive conflict resolution styles where one of the parties in conflict simply gives up what they want so that the other party can have what they want. In general, this style is not very effective, but it is appropriate in certain scenarios. For example, this style is useful when maintaining the relationship is more important than winning or when the issue at hand is very important to the other person but is not important to you. However, this style should be avoided when the issue is important to you, or accommodating will not permanently solve the problem, as it can be unsustainable or create resentment.
5. Avoiding - Avoiding the conflict entirely. Accepting decisions without question, avoiding confrontation, and delegating difficult decisions and tasks. This is a passive approach that is typically not effective as it does not address the root problem, but it does have its uses, such as when the issue is trivial or will resolve itself on its own (for example, you know a colleague you have a conflict with will be leaving the role in the near future). This style is not appropriate for important issues that impact you and your team or a conflict that will continue to grow if not addressed.
By considering the severity of the conflict and the people involved, you can use a conflict style that is optimally productive and effective. Consider the short and longer term outcomes that you’re looking for. Once you have a good handle on the nature of the conflict, you can move into taking action and ensuring you have a plan that takes all necessary steps to resolve the conflict. At the end of these discussions it’s important for both parties to check in with each other and evaluate their individual satisfaction of the handling of the issue.
We hope this article provides helpful advice should you experience conflict in the work place.