Understanding Workplace Conflict and the Safest Way to Manage It

Nov 25, 2021

At the organization level, conflict can occur around issues to do with management, finances, core values, poisoned work environments, amongst a host of other potential areas of conflict. Other kinds of conflict can be as a result of personality traits or differences in leadership style. At a more personal level, individuals may have other and more personal conflicts they need to manage (i.e. substance abuse, childcare, medical issues and/or family problems).

Often times I am asked whether conflict can also be a positive force in a work environment. The answer is that it depends. For example, some people believe conflict is part of human nature and that humans naturally compete with one another, making conflict normal and unavoidable. Have you ever witnessed parents telling their children that when they are yelling at one another, it is not a conflict or fight, but a discussion? While some may see conflict as inherent in human nature, the level of conflict depends on one’s ability to manage the situation. Organizations often hire outside experts and consultants for developing company goals, team building, and strategies; but how many CEOs invest in hiring help to manage internal strife or conflict?

Undisputed is the fact that workplace conflict has been linked to miscommunication, missed deadlines, operational delays, increased stress among staff, reduced teamwork and collaboration, poor customer satisfaction, distrust, and ultimately, disagreements division within the organization.

Generally, the best way to manage conflict is to find solutions accepted by both opposing points-of-view, through collaboration and compromise.

To learn how to best apply these five ways to manage conflict, think of a difficult situation you have been involved in and needed to manage previously. Before you begin, make sure to write down your observations and understanding of the situation, noting who was involved, what actually happened, and what outcome you had hoped for.

Avoiding

(Uncooperative and unassertive)

Your customary manner is to be passive and withdraw from conflict situations. Your most frequent attitude is to be accepting and patient, often suppressing your strong feelings to avoid confrontation. This type of behaviour usually victimizes oneself and tends to make it difficult for others to know there is a problem.

Avoiding can be useful when: an issue is trivial, you have no chance of getting your way, potential harm outweighs the benefits, and you need time to let people cool down.

Accommodating

(co-operative and unassertive)

You try to satisfy the other person’s concerns at the expense of your own. You strive to understand, listen and put yourself in the other person’s place. The mood is often cooperative and even conciliatory. An accommodating style may be useful when: you know you are wrong, as a gesture of goodwill and when achieving harmony is critical.

Competing

(Uncooperative and assertive)

You use direct tactics and have a strong need to control the situation and/or people. You want to straighten out the other person, to argue about who is right, and are ready to defend your ideas forcibly. You do whatever seems appropriate to win. This style may be most useful and effective in emergencies, disciplinary matters, enforcement of unpopular rules, or when doing unpopular things that simply must be done.

Collaborating

(co-operative and assertive)

You work with the other person to find a solution that fully satisfies both sides. You are ready to defend a stance without being too pushy. You are willing to work towards a mutually agreeable solution through negotiation. Verbal skills are used to move the discussion forward. This style is helpful when: both sides are important, learning something new is important, to merge insights, when buy-in from others is important, and to deal with hard feelings.

Compromising

(Intermediate in co-operating and assertiveness)

You work to seek a middle-ground solution for both parties. The solution provides partial satisfaction for each side of a conflict situation. This style is most helpful when: neither side considers they are important, power on both sides is equal and both are free to arrive at the best solution because all are pressed for time when other ways fail.

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