Can Anyone Make Conflict Go Away?
You walk into the office thinking “business as usual” and you enter your AM huddle. Silence abounds, eye contact is lacking and verbal spurring begins with little quips here and there. You think, “here we go again, I hope this issue resolves it’s self quickly so everyone can settle down”. Amazingly, by noon people seem to be over it. Unbeknownst to you the issue has been stuffed in closet for an appearance at a later, even less convenient date.
Resolving conflict to gain clarity and team effectiveness
In most offices, conflict just seems to be a fact of life. We've all seen situations where different people with different goals and needs come into conflict. And we've all seen the often intense personal animosity that can result if the issue that is creating the conflict is not addressed.
The fact that conflict exists, however, is not necessarily a bad thing: As long as it is resolved effectively, it can lead to personal and professional growth. In many cases, effective conflict resolution skills can make the difference between positive and negative outcomes. The good news is that by resolving conflict successfully, you can solve many of the problems it has brought to the surface, as well as getting benefits that you might not at first expect:
Increased understanding: The discussion needed to resolve conflict expands people's awareness of the situation, giving them an insight into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining those of other people.
Increased teamwork: When conflict is resolved effectively, team members can develop stronger mutual respect, and a renewed faith in their ability to work together.
Improved self-knowledge: Conflict pushes individuals to examine their goals in close detail, helping them understand the things that are most important to them, sharpening their focus, and enhancing their effectiveness.
However, if conflict is not handled effectively, the team, customer service and leadership can disintegrate.
Conflicting goals can quickly turn into personal dislike. Teamwork breaks down. Talent is wasted as people disengage from their work. And it's easy to end up in a vicious downward spiral of negativity and blame. This negative attitude soon finds its way to the customer and other referral-based relationships you have worked hard on for many years.
If you're to keep your team or organization working effectively, this downward spiral needs to be handled as soon as possible. To do this, it helps to understand two of the theories that lie behind effective conflict resolution techniques:
TKI: Thomas & Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument
Authors Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five main styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness. They argued that people typically have a 'preferred' conflict resolution style, however they also noted that different styles were most useful in different situations. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) helps you to identify which style you tend toward when conflict arises.
People who tend toward a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability. This style can be useful when:
- there is an emergency and a decision needs to be made fast.
- when the decision is unpopular.
- when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation for selfish means.
However, the competitive conflict resolution style can also leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied and resentful when used in less urgent situations.
People tending toward a collaborative style try to meet the needs of all people involved. They are often highly assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important.
This style is useful when:
- you need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution.
- there have been previous conflicts in the group.
- when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off.
This method is valuable when you can take time for all options to be explored. However, if time is of the essence, this may not be the preferred style.
People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something, and the compromiser also expects to relinquish something.
Compromise is useful when:
- the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground.
- equal strength opponents are at a standstill.
- when there is a deadline looming.
Be careful that you don’t overuse compromise. By constantly compromising you can loose sight of the long-term vision and lack clarity.
This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when:
- the issues matter more to the other part.
- when peace is more valuable than winning.
- when you want to be in a position to collect on this “favor” you gave.
Keep in mind, however people may not return favors, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes.
People tending towards this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be appropriate when:
- victory is impossible
- the controversy is trivial
- someone else is in a better position to solve the problem.
However in many situations this is a weak and ineffective approach to take.
Once you understand the different styles, you can use them to think about the most appropriate approach (or mixture of approaches) for the situation you're in. You can also think about your own instinctive approach, and learn how to change this if necessary.
Ideally when conflict arises you can adopt an approach that:
- meets the needs of the situation.
- resolves the problem.
- respects people's legitimate interests.
- mends damaged working relationships.
Understanding and managing conflict is a powerful leadership tool. Acknowledging conflict happens is important. The language we use to describe conflict creates the reality. When you have a situation that needs resolved, take time to review the situation and those involved. Begin to think, “ I am going to gain clarity on the situation”. You will find that by moving from “conflict” to “gaining clarity” will build team and trust in the practice.
Interested in finding out your conflict style?
Contact Fran Pangakis and Shari Tastad for more information on conflict resolution workshops.