Conflicts happen in all workplaces, are inevitable, generally dramatic, are stereotypically painful, are often the road to failure if you don’t know how to manage them. However, contrary to common belief, they are most of the times milestones to success.
Conflicts are incompatibilities and interference between two different parties ideas, desires, goals, interests, values and principles, events and activities.
Conflict management or conflict competence is a learnable skill that should be developed by all leaders throughout their career. Conflicts are consequential, frequent and inevitable but are necessary. They occur whether an employee is expressing a dissenting view, resisting change, or whether the leader is correcting an existing problem, fighting complacency and group-thinking.
Leaders that poorly manage conflict are faced with unfortunate lawsuits, grievances, violence, employee absenteeism, employee defection, poor performance, ineffective decisions, deteriorated working relationships, distrust and other negative behaviors, attacks on reputation and careers, a toxic company culture.
As a result, poorly managed conflicts are costly for organizations that have to sometimes hire new employees, take time to train new members, bring in paid third-party to mediate disagreements.
However, the benefits of appropriate conflict management are endless. In order to approach conflict in a productive manner, it is necessary to understand that:
- differences in points of views generate innovative solutions and breakthroughs,
- dissenting thinking allow to make higher quality decisions,
- creativity is stimulated among the team,
- social relationships are subsequently improved,
- transparency and open communication are promoted,
- the work environment becomes more collaborative, and the company culture healthier,
- more opportunities surface,
- and most importantly, people within the organization might need help or mediation during conflict.
Addressing conflicts effectively
In the workplace, conflicts generally stems from differences of control, power and influence between the leader and his or her employees. Conflicts also come from discrepancies in culture, background, monetary.
There are several steps, that you can take to understand and manage conflicts constructively, you must:
- First understand yourself. What are your strengths, weaknesses, blindspots? How do you interact with different people with different backgrounds? How do you cause conflicts?
- Identify your conflict style. There are five different conflict styles, explaining the manner in which people attempt to meet their needs while showing interest in meeting other people needs during a conflict:
- The competitive conflict style is aggressive, seeks to win, gain control, disregards other people needs and generally heightens conflicts.
- The cooperative conflict style is defined by a need to reach a common goal using and consensus, to collaborate and to offer innovate ideas to resolve an issue. This style is representative of a healthy work culture.
- The compromising conflict style is defined by a unsatisfying willingness to meet the other party half way.
- The accommodating conflict style is obliging, facilitating, diplomatic, describes a desire to put others need and interests before a sole individualistic need in other to preserve relationships. This style is the complete opposite of the competitive style.
- The avoidant conflict style is composed of penned up feelings and of a need to sweep negative interactions and situations under the rug. Therefore, needs go unexpressed and the conflict festers.
- Identify your trigger. To appropriately assess your trigger, attend conflict management classes, get a mentor or a coach, take the Myers-Briggs Assessment Test or the Conflict Dynamics Profile.
- Develop an emergency plan to cool down and desensitize your triggers. Desensitizing your trigger doesn’t mean that a person’s behavior is right or pleasant, it just means understanding the demonstrated behavior and changing your reaction towards it. For example, take a break before responding or jumping to conclusion.
- Learn to control your emotional reaction to conflict. Understand, stay conscious of the strong emotions that come with conflicts then cultivate positive emotions to counteract the negative ones.
- Discipline your thoughts, perceptions and assumptions of other people. The interpretation of someone’s attitude does not necessarily match reality.
- Observe the time frame, the number of times you have to see someone at the office. The less time you spend with coworkers, the less time you will notice their flaws and the less you will harbor negative emotions.
- Learn to discern any conflict driven behavior on the scale of conflict intensity. The intensity level measures the level of discomfort during a dispute:
- At the first level, there is a difference in opinions but there are no discomfort.
- At the second level, misunderstandings sprout: what is understood by someone is different from what is really meant.
- At the third level, disagreements occur: each party understands but disagrees with each other’s opinions, feels discomfort which can lead to damage in the relationship.
- At the fourth level, discord transpires: each party respond to a difference in opinion and there are continual attacks on the relationship.
- At the last and fifth level, each party is polarized, suffers from the conflict, resort to sabotage, criticism, manipulation, etc…
Furthermore, detecting a conflict early will allow to resolve them faster.
How to resolve conflict and create positive outcomes
There are generally two known responses to conflict: “fight or flight” and “retaliatory cycle”.
On on hand, the fight or flight response is a natural response to threats where one either flee from danger or fight it. The choice between fight or flight depends on how someone has been conditioned.
On the other hand, the retaliatory cycle leads to escalation, leads to destructive behaviors that fuel and trigger negative behaviors in each party. In the retaliatory cycle, someone is first triggered by a behavior, then generates in that person an emotional response to this behavior. This emotional response is perceived by others as a threat to their ideas, opinions that in return generate an emotional response. And so on and so forth, the retaliatory cycle is created.
Leaders have to acquire a model behavior during conflicts in the workplace. Leaders encourage positive outcomes by:
- Facing conflicts head on, standing their ground and assuming that conflicts are inevitable, frequent and are just a passing phase.
- Staying calm and composed under pressure.
- Avoiding jumping to conclusions, shifting blame or pointing fingers and relying only on facts.
- Separating the person from the real issue.
- Instilling core values and fair treatment among their followers.
- Encouraging open communication and allowing the other party to speak their truth.
- Demonstrating that they have understood every side of the issue, being empathetic to the conflict partner.
- Suggesting solutions to existing problems thanks to external opinions, historical and innovative ideas.
- Sincerely apologizing to the other person and being able to admit when they were wrong.
How to recover from conflict?
Conflict competence requires that the leader:
- value differences,
- almost immediately detect a conflict before it arises in a tone or in a facial micro-gesture,
- identify positive and negative models of leadership within the organization,
- learn from setbacks and hardships that build character,
- solve other people conflicts and implement a conflict resolution culture.
Dealing with conflict can leave you feeling like you are in a hostile territory but practice makes perfect, and managing conflicts effectively becomes easy with experience.
Hope that I’ve helped you get it together on your way to leadership!
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