5 Conflict Handling Tactics

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Without a conflict resolution technique in the workplace, two very different individuals can have difficulty communicating when under stress. That's why it's essential that both managers and employees understand how each team member typically handles conflict, as well as how to implement conflict resolution techniques.

But is there a right way to deal with conflict in the workplace? Actually, there are five different "personalities" or techniques that people use when faced with a conflict: avoidance, competition, accommodation, engagement and collaboration. The way you handle conflict may seem totally normal to you but it misses someone else, so there is only one ideal solution: collaboration.

As a manager, you not only manage projects but also personalities. Sometimes strong personalities can lead to tension that ultimately affects the success of the project. The best thing for everyone is to successfully manage conflicts at work. Read on to learn the difference between these two conflict resolution techniques, why collaboration is ideal, and how to implement conflict resolution strategies in the workplace for best results.

The relative nature of the conflict and its resolution

Personality and education influence the way we handle conflict. Think of it this way. In some homes, it is completely normal to walk away from conflict and not mention it again. In other families, problems are discussed rationally until a compromise is reached, while other families solve their problems with a dramatic touch.

Imagine having three team members who were each raised in a different environment. One will walk away, another will try to have a conversation, and the third might raise his voice and get excited. Each thinks he is handling the conflict normally and sees the behavior of the other two co-workers as strange. The definition of conflict management is an attempt to get everyone on the same page with a process for addressing difficult scenarios. However, for these techniques to be successful, each employee must be trained in the process to give everyone common ground.

Understanding your team composition

The first conflict resolution strategy is to meet in a team to discuss conflict management before a problem occurs. While conflicts in the workplace can occur between employees and senior management or between employees and customers, most conflicts occur between employees who spend most of their time together. Ask everyone to think about how they feel most comfortable handling a conflict in their daily lives. There may already be common ground.

Five common conflict resolution behaviors are:
  • Avoid
  • Competition
  • Accommodation
  • Commitment
  • Collaboration
  • Avoiding conflict

Avoidance involves walking away and completely ignoring the conflict, without doing anything that might be perceived as a rocking of the boat. This feels safe for the individual but does not solve the problem. The problem could even be made worse if left unaddressed.

In a team environment, a person may take the initiative of a co-worker who avoids conflict, which can lead to frustration and resentment. If all team members have an avoidance strategy, productivity is low when a problem arises because no one wants to step forward.

It is easy for someone who is inclined to this style of conflict resolution to accommodate someone else's wishes because they prefer to agree with someone to resolve the conflict. However, their needs are not met in this way, which can cause problems in the future.

Competing to Win Conflicts

Some people see conflict as an opportunity to win. They have no interest in engaging, collaborating or avoiding conflict. They want to get away with it and are not afraid to assert their opinions.

In a team environment, a competitive attitude toward conflict can easily slide into intimidation. It can also cause frustration among co-workers who do not feel their views are taken seriously. As frustration builds, co-workers may end up adopting a competitive attitude to conflict resolution, and the problem escalates.

Compromise is the only option that allows someone with this mindset to win, although reaching an agreement may involve a power struggle.

Accommodating the other person

Team members who are not necessarily afraid to speak out during the conflict may, however, not have any demands of their own. Instead, they lean back to accommodate the other person's demands and resolve the conflict.

A complacent conflict resolution technique does not allow all points of view or information to be put on the table. Accommodating people inevitably curbs their frustration or minimizes their feelings. Over time, this can cause frustration to build up and lead to an expectation among assertive peers that they will always get their way.

Ideally, complacent people can be encouraged to declare their needs during conflict management sessions in order to move toward collaboration.

Engage during conflict

A compromising conflict resolution strategy aims to reach a solution that is considered fair. Everyone works together, so no one gets away with it. Instead, each team member makes a sacrifice to ensure that everyone gets a small consolation prize.

Compromise sounds great at first, but a solution that is fair is not always an effective solution. This conflict resolution strategy remains too focused on competition and misses an important point: What does each person need? That is where collaboration comes into play.

Collaborating to find a solution

Collaboration maximizes the assertiveness and cooperation of each team member. Everyone speaks up to state their needs, and after the whole picture has been painted, the team cooperates to do what is necessary to meet everyone's needs as much as possible. Everyone leaves happily.

Of course, collaboration is not always possible, but it is worth the effort. Too often, conflicts arise due to misunderstandings and miscommunication. If all the team members are willing to put forward their needs and help meet the needs of others, a truly collaborative environment is born.

Coaching your team towards collaboration

Once you have your team together and understand the type of conflict resolution technique that each person usually uses, you can give them personalised guidance on what they need to do to collaborate on the job. Some team members may need to be more assertive, and others may need to be more cooperative. You can act as a mediator in the early stages and help individuals along the way.

In theory, each person involved in the conflict sets out his or her needs. After that, they brainstorm a solution that will meet those needs. When both parties agree on the resolution, it is time to implement it. As time passes, your team will feel comfortable enough with the process to handle it themselves, seeking guidance only when they feel stuck.

However, the process is not easy in practice. Real life is messy, and real people are emotional. You should establish some ground rules to ensure that conflict management sessions remain focused and do not become finger-pointing behavior.

Basic rules for conflict resolution techniques

Give your team some autonomy in this process by allowing them to give their opinion on the rules of the game. The list doesn't have to be long, but it has to cover what co-workers expect from each other when there is a problem. Prepare this in advance, before someone loses their cool due to a conflict.

For example, "I" language is recommended for conflict management instead of "you" or "they", which usually precedes a guilty plea. Instead, if team members focus on saying "I", they take charge of the situation and focus on what they can do to resolve it. Another basic rule could be to focus only on the problem at hand and not to mention previous examples of similar problems. This allows the conversation to remain solution-oriented.

After all, the goal of workplace conflict resolution is to help everyone do their job. There is no point in turning a conflict into a personal vendetta. Not every decision is a personal vendetta against someone. For successful conflict resolution, focus on the job and what it takes to get it done.

The Manager's Role in Conflict Resolution

Although you must train your employees to handle conflicts according to established guidelines as a company or team, you play a key role as a manager in reducing conflicts and resolving them. Have you ever considered that you can create conflicts within your team inadvertently? Success starts with giving clear instructions and making sure your team understands your expectations. Be as specific as you can in assigning tasks and covering the who, what, when, where, why and how. Make sure you don't invade the territory of micromanagement when you do.

Learn to be an active listener. Listen with the intention of understanding, not responding, and use your body language to show the speaker that you are listening and that you are following. Stay professional and unbiased in all your interactions to earn and maintain the respect of your team. Avoid meeting people individually. Group meetings ensure that there is no question of special treatment behind closed doors.

If there is a possibility that someone might misinterpret your message or tone in an email, pick up the phone. If you're setting unreasonable deadlines and creating a bottleneck somewhere, fix it. You may not realize that you have contributed to a problem until you are mediating a conflict resolution session, in which case you should speak up and state your own needs and become an active participant in the collaboration session. Bring someone else to act as a mediator if necessary, as this will demonstrate your integrity and earn the respect of your team.

Know when to take a break

Sometimes everyone needs to take a break before they can get together, follow the ground rules and work together to get things done. If you feel that emotions are running high, suggest that everyone take a 10-minute break to vent before starting the conflict resolution session. A brisk walk outside, some time alone listening to music, or deep breathing techniques can calm nerves.

It may also be helpful to encourage people to take their time to respond during the moment. Give everyone a turn to talk during which they are not interrupted. This gives them some time to gather their thoughts and really respond, and not react rashly, to what has been said. It also keeps a strong personality from dominating the session.

Finally, if you notice that you spend an inordinate amount of time resolving conflicts, especially those involving the same people, you may need to ask for help. Someone higher up in the company may have more experience in conflict resolution and can guide you, or you can consult with a conflict management coach. However, no matter how hard you try to resolve conflicts, sometimes you can end up trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. A position on a different company team might work better for an employee who doesn't get along with a current team member.

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