Monday, 23 April 2018 | Login


When people come together it is inevitable that differences will arise. When the differences involve important issues for the individuals they can create conflict. The objective of conflict management is to resolve the conflict while balancing the needs of each party. When this is done well it is possible for the parties to have a better relationship than before the conflict arose.

Different people deal with conflict in different ways. Some people will choose to avoid the conflict, but it is not an ideal choice as it leaves the conflict unsettled and can lead to alienation, apathy or absenteeism on the part of the avoider.

A variation of avoiding the conflict is to accommodate the other party. One party chooses to give in to the wishes of the other which resolves the immediate conflict but sets up a win lose situation. Often the loser carries a buried resentment which will resurface later and create further conflict.

Some conflicting parties will choose to compete until a winner and loser are determined. If the balance of power is relatively equal the conflict can be drawn out and tedious, disrupting the workplace and tiring everyone in the process. The fact that there is a winner and a loser is not conducive to effective long term relationships.

Compromise is a popular conflict management technique. The strategy aims to gain agreement and resolve the conflict through give and take on both sides. Compromise is effective when dealing with long term relationships but its success depends on both parties feeling the outcome is fair.

By far the best conflict management strategy is that of collaboration where the conflict is treated as something to be overcome together. It requires significant levels of trust and creativity to be successful but the outcome sees both parties achieving something larger than a simple resolution and sets a solid foundation for the relationship going forward.

To use compromise or collaboration to resolve conflict requires rational discussion. Unfortunately conflict is rife with emotion and until the emotional aspects are dealt with progress on resolution cannot occur. A useful approach to diffusing the emotion involved in conflict is to set a few simple rules:

1. Treat the other person with respect. Often when we are angry we will lose sight of the issue and attack the person instead. Insults only serve to escalate the emotional content of the conflict and should be avoided at all costs.

2. Listen to the other person's point of view until it is fully understood. When in conflict our primary goal is to have our views heard and understood. When we believe we are being listened to and understood the emotion tends to drain away quickly.

3. State your views, needs and feelings succinctly and clearly. If you want others to listen you must be clear and brief in what you are saying.

As a manager you can set these rules for conflict management with your team before conflict arises. Using role plays helps team members understand how to apply the rules in practice. Likewise as a facilitator you can explain and impose the rules before allowing discussions to commence between conflicting parties.

If you are involved in a dispute or sense an argument brewing apply the rules to yourself even if the other party is not aware of them. By listening first to the other person, reflecting back their position and stating your view in neutral language you can help to diffuse the other person's emotions and engage in a more productive discussion.

Conflict is unpredictable and nothing can be guaranteed, however if you focus first on diffusing the emotion of the situation you can then progress to rational discussion and reach either a compromise or collaborative approach to resolution which will strengthen relationships into the future.


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