"This job would be easier if people weren't involved."
It's one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek sayings. While true, as most of our conflict comes from interactions with others (though we all do struggle with self-conflict from time to time), most of us wouldn't have a job if it weren't for those around us -- peers, colleagues, supervisors, employees, customers, clients are a vital part of any business. But working collaboratively with others can be difficult, frustrating, and downright annoying at times.
At some point in most relationships, conflict is going to happen whenever there is more than one person in the room. And our conflict management skills, which are a competency of strong emotional intelligence, are what can make the difference between frustrating, unresolved disagreements or enabling conversations where all parties can pursue the best possible solutions.
We all have a role when it comes to conflict, whether we are the vocal one who loses our temper or the quiet doormat that stays silent.
"Conflict cannot survive without your participation." -- Wayne Dyer
It's no monkey business: learning how to navigate conflict can increase our sense of well-being and job satisfaction and contributes greatly to the quality of relationships both at work and at home.
How well do you play with others?
Ask yourself the following questions and see how many you can answer yes to:
- I can see potential conflict before it arises and help de-escalate the situation.
- I can handle difficult people with tact.
- I can lay down my own expectations and be open to hearing the perspectives of others.
- I can manage tense situations with diplomacy.
- I can create a safe space for all parties to share their perspectives.
- I can help all parties involved understand the other perspectives in the room.
- I can hear diverse opinions and find a common ideal.
- I can orchestrate win-win solutions.
Five Conflict Styles and when to use them
We all have our own 'style' when it comes to conflict resolve, but that doesn't mean we can't grow and learn other approaches that may better serve us and the situation at hand. In 1974, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilman created the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument, which identifies five styles of conflict. There are situations that arise when some styles work better than others. Here is a quick guide:
1-Competitive/Controlling - A quick and decisive action is needed (vital in emergency situations), or the other party would take advantage of cooperation on your part.
2-Collaborating - The issues (and/or relationship) are too important to be compromised and the objective is to integrate differing viewpoints.
3-Avoiding - There are more important things to tackle, there is no chance of achieving your objectives, the parties need time to "cool down" or take time to gather more data.
4-Accommodating - You realize you are wrong or understand that the issues at hand are more important to the other person and/or you need to build 'credits' with that person.
5-Compromising - It's too risky to be too controlling, both parties are committed to mutually exclusive goals, you need a quick or temporary solution under time constraints.
Time for a Shift
How do you know when it's time to shift your approach to conflict resolve? Simply put, when your approach is not working. Losing friends left and right? Colleagues can't stand you? Coworkers shut down and won't share their perspective with you? Feel agitated and stressed when conflict is discussed? People walk all over you in meetings? You are the only one talking in meetings? You get what you want but no one is alongside you to enjoy it? If you find yourself in a confusing or disturbing conflict, try asking yourself these honest questions:
- How was my behavior received by others?
- How did I feel during the conflict?
- How much do I care about the outcome?
- What were my expectations of the situation and did they match up with reality?
- What judgments did I make about the others during the conflict and were they accurate?
- What did I want to see happen? What did they want to see happen?
- What is my investment into this situation? What is theirs?
- Am I acting in an old pattern of behavior that no longer serves me?
- What can I say/do going forward to optimize the outcome?
Which of the five conflict resolve styles is your primary 'go-to' when faced with conflict? Does it serve you well in all situations or could you stand to develop a new approach? If you struggle in the area of conflict resolve, good news! Behaviors in conflict resolve are learned and can be changed. Finding a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you to make behavior shifts can be a great place to start.
"When team members trust each other and know that everyone is capable of admitting when they're wrong, then conflict becomes nothing more than the pursuit of truth or the best possible answer." -- Patrick Lencioni