Understanding The "Interest-Based Relational Approach" to Conflict Management

In last months article we increased your awareness of conflict styles and the opportunity for conflict to be welcomed and used in building team to gain clarity.  We looked at the five styles of conflict to assist us in gaining clarity:  Avoidance, Assertiveness, Collaboration, Competitiveness and Compromising, and reviewed the benefits and weaknesses of each style. In this article we will introduce you to another clarity gaining tool.

The second theory about conflict resolution is commonly referred to as the "Interest-Based Relational (IBR) Approach". This conflict resolution strategy respects individual differences while helping people avoid becoming too entrenched in a fixed position.

In resolving conflict by using this approach, here are some of the guidelines to follow:

Make sure that good relationships are the first priority

As far as possible, make sure that you treat the other calmly and that you try to build mutual respect. Do your best to be courteous to one-another and remain constructive under pressure.

Keep people and problems separate

Recognize that in many cases the other person is not just "being difficult" – real and valid differences can lie behind conflictive positions. By separating the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without damaging working relationships. Separate the “performer” from the “performance.”

Pay attention to the interests that are being presented

By listening carefully you'll most likely understand why the person is adopting his or her position.

Listen first; talk second: To solve a problem effectively you have to understand where the other person is coming from before defending your own position.

Set out the “facts”: Agree and establish the objective, observable elements that will have an impact on the decision; and

Explore options together: Be open to the idea that a third position may exist, and that you can get to this idea jointly.

By following these guidelines, you can often keep contentious discussions positive and constructive. This helps to prevent the antagonism and dislike which so often causes conflict to spin out of control.

Using the Tool: A Conflict Resolution Process

Based on these approaches, a starting point for dealing with conflict is to identify the overriding conflict style used by yourself, your team or your organization.

Over time, people's conflict management styles tend to mesh, and a “right” way to solve conflict emerges. It's good to recognize when this style can be used effectively, however make sure people understand that different styles may suit different situations.

Look at the circumstances, and think about the style that may be appropriate. Then use the process below to resolve the conflict:

Step One: Set the Scene

If appropriate to the situation, agree the guidelines of the IBR Approach (or at least consider using the approach yourself.) Make sure people understand that the conflict may be a mutual problem, which may be best resolved through discussion and negotiation rather than through raw aggression.

When you are involved in the conflict, emphasize the fact that you are presenting your perception of the problem. Use active listening skills to ensure you hear and understand other’s positions and perceptions.  Restate, paraphrase, summarize. And make sure when you talk you're using an adult, assertive approach rather than a submissive or aggressive style.

Step Two: Gather Information

Here your goal is to get to underlying interests, needs, and concerns. Ask for the other person’s viewpoint and confirm that you respect their opinion and need their cooperation to solve the problem. Recognize that every conflict is a story waiting to be told.

Try to understand motivations and goals, and see how your actions may be affecting these.

Also, try to understand the conflict in objective terms: How is it affecting work performance? What damage is created to the delivery of services to the client? How is it disrupting teamwork? Where is it dampering decision-making? And so on. Be sure to focus on work issues and leave personalities out of the discussion.

Listen with empathy and see the conflict from the other person’s point of view:

  • Identify issues clearly and concisely
  • Use “I” statements
  • Remain flexible
  • Clarify feelings

Step Three: Agree on the Problem

This sounds like an obvious step, but very often different underlying needs, interests and goals can cause people to perceive problems very differently. You'll need to agree on the problems that you are trying to solve before you can find a mutually acceptable solution.

Sometimes people will see different but interlocking problems - if you can't reach a common perception of the problem, then at the very least you need to understand what the other person perceives to be the problem.

Step Four: Brainstorm Possible Solutions

If the end goal is for everyone to feel satisfied with the resolution, it will help if everyone has had fair input in generating solutions. Brainstorm possible solutions and be open to all ideas, including ones you never considered before.

Step Five: Negotiate a Solution

By this stage, the conflict may be resolved: Both sides may better understand the position of the other, and a mutually satisfactory solution may be clear to all.

However you may also have uncovered real differences between your positions. This is where a technique like win-win negotiation can be useful to find a solution that, at least to some extent, satisfies everyone.

Remember the three guiding principles here:

  • Be Calm
  • Be Patient
  • Have Respect
  • Key Points

Conflict in the workplace can be incredibly destructive to good teamwork. Managed in the wrong way, real and legitimate differences between people can quickly spiral out of control, resulting in situations where co-operation breaks down and the team's mission is threatened. This is particularly possible where the wrong approaches to conflict resolution are used.

To calm these situations down, it helps to take a positive approach, where discussion is courteous and non-confrontational, and the focus is on issues rather than on individuals. If this is done, then as long as people listen carefully and explore facts, issues and possible solutions properly, conflict can often be resolved effectively.

Interested in a team appreciation day where you can learn more about gaining clarity in times of uncertainty? Contact Shari and Fran for more information on conflict resolution workshops