Top Ways to Deal with Conflict - and Harness Its Potential!

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Conflict Management Skills

Top Ways to Deal with Conflict - and Harness Its Potential

Managing conflict is a normal aspect of business operations.

Although managers do have to dedicate much of their time to conflict management, successfully doing so can be good for the long-term performance of the company.

Conflict management is an integral part of successful business administration.

Research shows that managers often spend as much as 20 percent of their work day trying to resolve conflict.

Although conflict is a common workplace issue, it is important to recognise the sources of conflict and implement strategies to solve problems.

This can help businesses overcome the harmful aspects of conflict and benefit from the positive results conflict can produce.

There are four basic elements of conflict. These include:

  1. The involvement of two or more parties
  2. A perception of incompatible goals
  3. Differing values or perceptions
  4. A continuation of the conflict until both sides feel satisfied with the results.

Conflict in the workplace can take many forms.

However, it always requires at least two parties.

Often, one of the parties is unaware of the conflict. They are a part of it nonetheless.

From the perspective of management, it is best to identify the two parties and separate them initially.

The first step is to accept that there is a problem and to define what it is and who is involved.

It is often difficult to realise that problems are stemming from a perception of incompatible goals. Individuals may have specific goals for their department or the organisation as a whole.

Those goals may be quite different than the goals that someone else in another department might have.

It is often easier for an individual to see him or herself as the good guy and see the person who is a threat as the enemy.

The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that the other person may have goals that have not even been considered. In many instances, finding a way to satisfy both individuals will ultimately be good for the company.

Conflict is normal. That is because each individual in an organisation brings certain values and perspectives to the table that are unique to him or her.

These can enrich the organisation by allowing for a more diverse dialogue and decision-making process.

Unfortunately, they can also spark opposition and contribute to communication difficulties. Still, they are healthy problems to have. In fact, a truly dysfunctional operation would be one where everybody gets along.

Often conflicts will go on for long periods of time. This is especially true when one or more parties keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves. This can come from a desire to avoid the conflict, or can just be the result of neither side feeling satisfied with the solutions, if any.

It is important for managers to recognise and deal with conflict. Sometimes it is best to just let things be.

If a manager feels that not dealing with the problem would be better than if he or she did, then perhaps that is the best course of action.

Unfortunately, most problems don’t just go away, and festering anger can eat away at morale and get in the way of effective decision-making.

There are five main strategies for resolving conflict. These are:

  1. Avoidance
  2. Accommodating
  3. Forcing
  4. Compromise
  5. Problem Solving

Avoidance is sometimes the best course of action. Often time will fix whatever problem has existed and trying to fix it yourself will just make it worse. Still this rarely works. More often than not, avoiding conflict is just a sign of an inability to successfully manage problems. The conflict avoider often develops rationales for the conflict, dodges meetings or conversations where conflict is present, and hopes the conflict will resolve itself on its own.

Accommodating is an approach which rarely leads to the problem being solved. Although this can help solve the immediate problem, the basic issue remains. Accommodating and avoidance are similar techniques. They both come from a fear of addressing and dealing with an issue directly. A manager who gives in to the conflicting party often sacrifices his or her own goals and hurts the company in the long run. This is why it is often healthier to have conflict out in the open than to have people think there is harmony when there really is not.

Forcing is the opposite of accommodating.

The manager who forces his or her employees to accept a solution to a problem or forces them to drop the issue will seldom find the best long-term solutions.

This type of behaviour can be competitive or even aggressive in nature.

The manager (or co-worker) wants to compete to see who’s right and who’s wrong, so he or she attempts to force an opinion on the opposition to win the argument.

This hardly ever fixes the problem and usually produces more anger.

Compromise is often seen as the best way to deal with conflict. However, it can often leave both sides feeling like they’ve lost.

This is especially true when managers are the ones who decide what the compromise will be.

In order to successfully implement the problem solving strategy, there must be certain common beliefs that the two parties can agree on, such as:

  1. Cooperation is better than competition
  2. Parties can be trusted
  3. Status Differences can be minimised
  4. Mutually acceptable solutions can be found

It is better to get the parties in a conflict involved if you are to reach a long term solution to their problems. The likelihood of a solution working is greatest when the parties come up with it than when it is created by management. However, such a solution can only be found when the parties realise that cooperation is in their best interest.

As values and perspectives differ, it can be easy for some individuals to distrust each other. This is often the result of a breakdown in communication or a failure to realise the goals of others. Managers can increase their ability to gain the trust of their employees by actually trusting them. This will give them the ability to communicate successfully and help employees recognise and solve problems together.

Status differences often prevent communication and lead to conflict. When employees feel that management is different than them, they often decide not to communicate openly and problems can grow over time. This will be especially true if the manager tends to use the forcing technique to problem management.

Believing that solutions can be found which will satisfy all parties is the first step toward successfully solving a problem. The parties need to admit that there is a problem and get it out in the open. Management should encourage this and let employees know that conflict is normal. The problem should be analysed by both parties, with the manager as the intermediary. By accepting employees concerns, managers can encourage an attitude that will help problem solving. The parties can then come up with options for solving the problem and agree on a final solution.

Managing conflict is a normal aspect of business operations. Although managers do have to dedicate much of their time to conflict management, successfully doing so can be good for the long-term performance of the company. To effectively solve conflicts, managers need to recognise the factors that cause it and try to implement strategies for solving problems in a constructive way.

The following article was contributed by Justin Elza

Justin Elza is the owner of J. Allan Writing and Design Studios, a full-service creative firm that helps clients save time and money while developing consistency in all their written, visual, and web-based marketing communications. From business cards to billboards, memos to manuscripts, J. Allan Studios is your creative, professional partner! 


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