Conflict Management in the workplace
Conflicts are inevitable in the workplace, and managing such circumstances well is a professional skill to be acquired and keep sharpening to thrive in the career. We merely talk about it in an open forum or train people but keep an implicit expectation that everyone should be good at it. Most people lack awareness of how to react to such cases and feel flabbergasted at the end. We either shy away from conflicts to agree with everything or let our emotions out during conflicting conversations. Both approaches leave some consequences that hamper overall productivity and career progress. If I talk about my experience, it was not my cup of tea at the early stages of my career. I used to feel like a fish out of water. So, I kept learning from my own mistakes, observing, and then imbibing the skill from others on how they handle it competently. I attended a few caching sessions as well to get better at this. In my humble opinion, every organization must include conflict management training in new joiner orientations to enlighten their employees. This is a topic where you wouldn’t find many influencing blogs over the internet because most of us imagine a solution instead of educating ourselves. It motivates me to write a column on this topic based on the experience and cognizance developed over my 14 years of career.
What is conflict?
We can define conflict as discord in opinions, approaches, beliefs, attitudes, values, perceptions, and whatnot between people working together.
What is conflict management?
This is a professional skill that empowers one to interpret contrasting opinions precisely, analyze, communicate, and come to a conclusion graciously. Broadly it can be categorized as prevention and remediation. As a preventive measure, the stilted conversation can be averted following constructive communication. For already occurring conflict, the remedy is to follow proven theoretical strategies. I’ll rationalize both of them below.
What causes conflict?
That’s a fundamental question! If you are conscious of the apparent reasons, you can act pragmatically. However, a minor irrelevant incident may inflame a grand conflict as a butterfly effect. Such reasonings are out of control, but the study says in most cases, conflicts get triggered due to the following common issues.
- Different work methods, values, or goals
- A clash between adamant personalities
- Personal or work-level stresses
- Holding perceptions or grudges
- Coarse communication
- Ambiguity in defined roles or resources
- Unpredictability in vision or execution
Impacts of Conflict
A series of conflicts may leave a massive impact than we fathom at the ground level. It impacts at personal as well as organizational levels.
At a personal level, you may agree with everything to run away from having conflicts. Still, you may find yourself in an overwhelmed and compromised situation with a lack of confidence. You may start losing an urge to innovate too. On the contrary, if you let your emotions out, you will lose focus, credibility, and productive hours. You may also get tagged as a “Brilliant jerk” with whom no one would like to collaborate. Whatever path you choose, eventually, that would jeopardize your career progression only or induce just mental fatigue.
If an organization dwells with ongoing conflicts at various levels, that may impact decision-making and overall company performance. While scouring through the web, I encountered an interesting article. It says, “U.S. employees spend 2.8 hours each week dealing with conflict, which comes to $359 billion in paid hours (based on an average hourly wage of $17.95) in companies across the country.”
Preventive measures and Post remediation for conflicts
According to my cognizance, constructive communication and an impartial positive attitude are the keys to averting and resolving conflicts. I would advocate for a few effective practices as follows.
- Focus on the problem, not the person. Aim at the goal with an open mindset to get engaged in a discussion
- If you expect push-back during any discussion, be prepared to pose your arguments fueled by the data points.
- Even if you do not agree with someone or something, try not to interrupt the opposite person while speaking. You better control your emotions. Let the other person finish. You should acknowledge and then begin with your counterarguments as applicable.
- Be receptive to contrasting opinions; try to fathom the reasoning with empathy. Also, try to avoid making any assumptions. It is better to keep asking questions until you get clarity.
- You can communicate sensibly by using particular phrases where you expect some conflicts. Some of the acceptable samples you can find in this blog. If you let your emotion control your wording, it would just deteriorate the situation.
- If you see a conversation that is not benefiting and instead gets heated up, it is suggested to bring a halt to that. Meantime the stress may get steamed off. You would also get a cooling period for performing a thorough retrospection on your proposed opinions/approaches and the things you could have agreed with. Accordingly, be flexible in opening the next round of discussions to mitigate the same.
- If the situation declines, it is recommended to involve your manager or higher rank person instead of dragging it further.
I came across a thought-provoking diagram on the internet and shared it below.
Conflict management by a leader
Managing conflicts within the team is also a coveted skill for a leader. As I have learned, there are some thumb rules to follow.
- Firstly, bring a halt to an ongoing conflicted discussion to steam off the stress.
- Show proactiveness to mitigate the matter. Reach out to engaged and other stakeholders in 1on1 to understand the context precisely with an impartial mindset before acting on the issue.
- Be an anchor to resume the halted discussion involving everyone.
- Draw a mitigation plan after consulting with related people, and follow up until the situation improves.
- If the situation doesn’t get mitigated, it is recommended to escalate the matter to the higher authority.
I got acquainted with two famous proven theories on strategic conflict management during my coaching sessions. I got illuminated by those two theories to devise my own strategy. Let me provide some rudimentary concepts below.
Let me explain the abbreviation.
A — Acknowledge the positive intention
E — Express what I see
I — Identify what I can propose
O — Outline the benefits of the Outcome
U — Understanding the ask for feedback on what has been proposed
This model works with any level of conflict within the organization: employee-to-boss, peer-to-peer, or boss-to-employee. I would encourage you to read through this blog for more details.
The Thomas Kilman Conflict Model posits two “dimensions” or approaches for conflict behavior. The individuals may choose to be either assertive or cooperative. This model works with 5 modes as follows.
Competing — Focus on getting your perspective accepted
Collaborating — Come together to develop a mutually beneficial solution
Compromising — Reach a consensus that is acceptable to all
Avoiding — Take a step back from the conflict and let it play out
Accommodating — Accept the perspective of other parties to call a truce
This article is beyond the ambit of an elaborative discussion. So, please read through this blog post.
Look forward to seeking your thoughts on how you resolve such matters. Feel free to share your stories in the comment section.