Facilitate Productive Conversations with Our Tools for Resolving Conflict
Conflict in one form or another is inevitable in any workplace. Effective conflict resolution skills will increase productivity, allow your team to make better business decisions, and help you better manage risk. Below are 5 strategies to consider when resolving conflict in the workplace.
#1. Understand Misconceptions
The idea of conflict can generally make people uncomfortable. Organizations can benefit from reframing the way we look at conflict and recognize the value of it. We can also be quick to associate the word conflict with a large falling out or intense fighting when in many cases, conflict can be managed well and create productive conversations. Since conflict can happen to any group of people, it is important to have the skills and tools to effectively solve disagreements in the workplace.
#2. Set the tone by creating a safe environment
When there is a disagreement in the workplace, it can be useful to have some boundaries set in place to be prepared to address it. Conflict can cause emotions to run high, but the opposite can make finding a solution more effective. By neutralizing emotions and having everyone involved in the conflict agree that they wish to solve it, we create an environment where a win-win solution is achievable.
To further neutralize emotions, sometimes it can help to face them head-on. This means giving everyone time to vent and work through the feelings associated with the conflict. This can bring up the root causes of the conflict, and make for a better long-term resolution.
Setting ground rules can also create a safe environment for everyone involved in the conflict. Ground rules provide a framework to resolve conflict ethically and respectfully. Setting ground rules – whether detailed or minimalistic - at the beginning of any conflict resolution process keeps things fair and serves as a reminder to focus on the objective. For higher stakes conflict, a mediator can be helpful to enforce these rules for both parties. Some general examples of ground rules are:
- We will work together to achieve a mutually acceptable solution.
- We will respect each other as individuals, and therefore not engage in personal insults and attacks.
- We will listen to each other’s statements fully before responding.
Participants can use the ground rules throughout the conflict resolution process to monitor and modify their behaviors. Ground rules give participants a logical way of addressing emotional issues.
When setting the time and place for resolving a conflict, ensure you choose a quiet place all parties are equally comfortable in. Be sure to allow plenty of time to resolve the conflict so there is no rushing or pressure to come up with a solution. Minimize distractions if possible: turn cell phones off, and step away from computers.
#3. Focus on Individual and Shared Needs to Get to the Root Cause
Establishing clear objectives for resolving a conflict brings both parties a chance to be on the same team and find common ground around the situation. Take time to allow each side to express their wants and needs, and use this to create a mutual understanding that will set the tone for the resolution process. Maintain a positive attitude through this to build trust and respect.
Many conflicts can start aa surface level, making their objectives unclear. A helpful tactic to solve conflict long-term is to get to the root of the problem. One way to do this is through simple verbal investigation. This involves asking questions to get more insight into what the person is feeling. These are generally questions beginning with “Why”. For example:
“I was very upset when Sharon vetoed my idea at the meeting.”
“Why were you upset?”
“I felt that my idea had real value and she didn’t listen to what I had to say.”
“Why didn’t she listen to what you had to say?”
“She has been with the company for a lot longer than I have and I feel that she doesn’t respect me.”
This provides more context to the incident and exposes the root cause. Resolving this root cause will provide greater value and satisfaction. For more complex issues, parties involved in the conflict can consider developing a cause-and-effect diagram. This involves writing down the problem and working together to categorize and list causes from both perspectives. This gives everyone a clear map of what is happening in the conflict.
#4. Find a Style That Suits the Conflict
Different types of conflicts require unique techniques to solve them. The five widely accepted styles of resolving conflict were developed by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann. The significance and the stakes of the conflict can influence which style will be most productive. The five styles are:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”. Can be most effective 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. This style can take longer to work through so it also not ideal for when urgent decisions need to be made.
- 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. 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.
- 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. 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.
#5. Finding Your Solutions
Once you have a good handle on the nature of the conflict, it’s time for all parties in conflict to start generating some options for resolution. Don’t be afraid to use your creative problem-solving skills to suggest as many options as possible, this stage is about what you can do, not what you will do. Maintain a positive attitude through this brainstorming session to build mutual respect and consider the following:
- How do we not want this conflict to be resolved?
- How might others resolve this conflict?
- In an ideal world, how would this conflict be resolved?
Once you have a good list of options, look over the list, and perform some basic evaluation to narrow it down. Having set criteria for the needs and wants of everyone involved in the conflict can help you select a solution that best aligns with everyone’s priorities. Take your reduced list of options and identify the effort, payback, likelihood of success, and everyone’s preference towards each one. This leads to picking your solution and implementing it. This should narrow your options down enough to come up with an effective solution, or even combine options.
This should move into taking action. Your action plan ensures that the necessary steps are taken to resolve the conflict. Parties involved in the conflict should communicate at this time and work together to evaluate, re-examine, and adjust the action plan accordingly.
Conflict Resolution training will help your team solve disagreements productively, and even improve the organization as a whole by addressing important issues. Get started on implementing these strategies in your team with our Conflict Resolution Workshop, or learn more about the training materials we offer with a free course sample today!
Posted by Katelyn Roy on