“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”
Dorothy Thomas, US Human rights activist (1960 – )
I really like this definition of ‘peace’ as applied to the workplace – inevitably in any busy, stressful environment there will be a clash of approach from all the differing personalities and roles. It seems to me that the answer is not to aim to eradicate conflict altogether (lovely as this would be, it’s not very realistic for most organisations!) but rather to formulate coping strategies that help minimise disruption.
Conflict makes most of us uncomfortable, and very few of you reading this will relish the prospect of going into metaphorical battle with colleagues daily – it’s exhausting, stressful and unproductive. But whilst we’re not actively seeking out conflict, it’s important to understand our natural approach to dealing with it when it does arise. Whether our natural inclination is to fight or flee, adapting our behaviour according to the specific situation and people involved helps us all manage conflict successfully.
Managing conflict appropriately – five techniques
Competing occurs when there is high assertiveness and low co-operation.
It is appropriate when rapid action needs to be taken, when unpopular decisions need to be made, or when protecting your own interests (when you need to stand up for your rights, resist aggression and pressure).
Potential disadvantages of a competing style are:
- Negatively impacting on the long-term relationship between parties
- Causing the opponent to react in the same way, even if this was not their initial intention
- Inability to take advantage of the strengths in the other side’s position
- Requires huge amounts of energy
Collaborating (win-win) occurs when there is high assertiveness and high co-operation.
It is most appropriate when the conflict is important to the people involved, where issues are too serious to compromise, when merging perspectives, when gaining commitment or trust and in developing relationships. A collaborative solution is a creative one that wouldn’t have been generated by a single individual.
Collaboration is always the best mode of conflict resolution, but it does take time and energy, which we don’t always have.
Compromising looks for an expedient and mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties.
This technique is used when quick or temporary settlement is needed on important or complex issues, or when the goals are moderately important but not worth spending lots of time and energy on.
This can be a good practical solution when time is of the essence. However, be aware that one major disadvantage is the potential to create a dissatisfactory situation for all concerned (lose-lose).
Avoiding occurs where there is low assertiveness and low co-operation. This course of action may result from a fear of engaging in conflict or a lack of confidence in conflict management skills.
Times when the avoiding mode is appropriate are when you have issues of low importance (not worth the effort), to reduce tensions, when it is not the right time or place to confront the issue, when you need time to consider your next step, or when you are in a position of lower power.
The main disadvantage to avoidance is that the underlying conflict is still there – nothing has been done to reduce the problem and by not addressing the issue, respect is soon lost from team members (undermining your ability to lead and manage others effectively).
Accommodating takes place where there is low assertiveness and high co-operation, putting the concerns of others first.
It is appropriate when showing reason, developing performance, creating goodwill, or keeping the peace. It can be a good strategy when the importance of the outcome is low, when you acknowledge you are wrong or when continued competition would be detrimental.
The challenge with accommodating is not to be seen as a pushover, the person who always gives in – then your position can become abused or you become the martyr.
Figure 1 – The Betari Box. Source: www.mindtools.com
It takes two people to have an argument, and no matter how convinced you might be that you are right and everyone else is wrong, teamwork requires compromise and we all need to accept responsibility for how we make others feel and act.
The Betari Box is a simple visual representation of the inter-connectedness of our attitudes and behaviours with those of our co-workers, illustrating perfectly how easy it is to get stuck in a cycle of conflict from which it seems impossible to escape. So next time you feel stuck in an everlasting headlock with a colleague, why not consider which of the five techniques of conflict management (accommodating, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and competing) might help break the cycle.
If you would like to take control of your life and career, my online personal development programme MyLifeStrategy can help you to overcome the personal and professional challenges you face on a daily basis and learn practical skills and techniques to make a real difference to you and your life.
I’ve developed the Understanding the People Puzzle module to help you to understand why people behave in the way they do, what’s behind your own and others’ behaviour, how to build positive relationships and get the best out of others and how to make the most of all your relationships.