Ultimate Guide To Successful Conflict Management7 mins - Introduction
The business world is all about interactions. Business owners interact with their workers. Coworkers interact with their coworkers. Workers interact with customers. Customers interact with the products. With so many different types of interactions comes the need to make sure that they maintain a sense of civility.
Conflict is inevitable. With diverse mindsets comes misunderstandings and with misunderstandings sometimes comes conflict. Conflicts themselves aren’t problematic, but the aftermath of them can be. Raised voices, physical threats, and other negative repercussions of unresolved conflicts can happen. It’s important that businesses keep these incidents from happening. It could be bad for business and literally cost them lots of money. That’s why conflict management is so important. This guide will help you understand the importance of conflict management.
What is it about a conflict that makes it so hard to deal with? What is it about a conflict that can turn the most docile of people into complete jerks? Many people change in the face of conflict. It’s alarming when we see the physical and verbal changes in people. One answer lies in understanding what conflict is and how the misconception of it actually increases the chances of it happening.
When many people think of conflict, the first thing they want to do is to avoid it at all costs. Some people simply walk away from it. Other people tend to take it to the other extreme and allow it to fume inside them and they explode. They wind themselves up and then go in for the attack. Others will have physical illness manifestations of the conflict and go on stress or sick leave. It’s surprising the lengths people will go to avoid conflict and the personal stress that manifests with it.
The problem comes from denying that the conflict is happening. By avoiding it, we’re denying it exists. It’s one of the most common problems people have. They’re not resolving the issue, or they think they’re resolving the issue but it’s only denial in a different proverbial coating. In denying the problem, people bury their heads in the sand and the conflict continues to go on. Some conflicts go on as long as months or even years!
Many people assume that conflict is an extreme version of the actual definition. Metaphorically speaking, they consider it to be an all-out war. They come to the situation ready to slaughter their opponent or expect that they’re going to get hurt in the process. In a way, these people are confronting the situation from a “fight or flight” mode, relying on human survival instincts when there’s no need to take it that far. On top of this, the definition of conflict is belittled in that people will assume that anything less than all-out war isn’t a real conflict. In truth, many conflicts start off small. They’re little upsets between two opposing parties. From here, it builds and grows and then becomes a battle.
Conflict is defined as a moment when one person has a need of another, and that need isn’t being met. The definition is deceptively simple, but this is because it’s only the definition. The process is where it gets more involved.
Resolving a Conflict
Consider the following steps to resolve a conflict.
1) Express this need
Piggybacking off of the definition of conflict, we have the first step of expressing your need. When upset with someone else, remember that it’s because a specific need of yours isn’t being met. If you’re having an issue with expressing this to the person you’re in conflict with, consider taking a quiet moment and sitting down and writing out what the need is. Clarity will help you not only understand what your specific need is, but also help to calm you down. The calmer and collected you are, the better you can convey your need.
2) Find out if this need can’t or can be met
Sometimes, after learning what our need is, we realize that it may or may not be obtainable. After understanding what our need is, we can reevaluate it and realize later on that it isn’t something that we can easily get. If the need can be met then that’s when we want to move towards a resolution. If the answer is a no, then we move towards the negotiation process. In certain situations, we may move toward the management of conflict.
3) Don’t jump the gun
Many people jump from the phase of an unmet need right into the management of conflict. They feel intimidated by the first and second steps. They’re afraid to talk to the people who can do something about it. The passive way of dealing with it may seem helpful but it’s not. When jumping toward the management of conflict, the person begins to sulk, withdrawal within themselves, get ill, and give people involved the silent treatment. In more socially toxic situations, backstabbing and gossip become part of the management of conflict. In other words, people tend to lean on the passive-aggressive nature of dealing with conflict. Without warning, they’ll begin shouting and blocking someone out.
4) Get a mediator involved
Some conflicts, especially those that have gone on for quite a long time, escalate. Evaluate the conflict and if it seems like it has got to a point to where it can’t be resolved between you and the other party, consider getting a mediator involved. This neutral third party will keep both sides from going overboard. In workplaces, this mediator can normally be found in the Human Resource department. After all, their job is to help keep things civil and running smoothly between the different people involved.
Managing Conflict the Right Way
When taking into consideration the “manage” part of managing conflict, it’s good to take into account when you’d want to fuel the conflict or stop the conflict. Fueling the conflict should only be done when it can be helpful for both parties and all those involved. One helpful situation would be when an important and much-needed dialogue is opened up. In these positive situations, the playing field is even among people and they’re able to express their needs. The goal is to try and get to the core issue. The parties involved are trying to get to a better result. Stopping a conflict is necessary when it is obvious that the resulting conversation or conflict isn’t going to be helpful. This situation presents itself in different ways, but most commonly when someone’s feeling hostile or personally attacked. You’ll want to stop the conflict when you’re disrespecting people on any level, whether they are a customer, team member, vending partner or a stockholder. One of the easiest questions we can ask ourselves in this situation is “is this conflict hindering progress?” If the answer is yes, then chances are it’s time to stop.
More Tips on Managing Conflict
1) Educate yourself
There are multiple resources out there available to you to learn an in-depth way of managing conflict. This guide only skims the top of the greater subject. Professionals and academics have written about the subject for years. The glory of this is also that many of the conflict management strategies are different. People are different, so sometimes approaching things in an unconventional way can be the solution.
2) Educate your team members (for those in a management position)
For this tip, you’re basically letting your team know what’s going to happen. It demystifies the fear of conflict by outright saying that it will happen at some point. Consider using one of the popular strategies for understanding the dynamics of group involvement and conflict. One concept is Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development. This concept brings to light that when a project first forms, or when a group of people first begin working together it presents the group with new variables they have to contend with. The concept follows a “forming, storming, norming, performing” process. The team forms, and then there’s the storming when people begin meeting their boundaries, so a storm of conflict begins to arise. Once out of the storming phase, they begin to find equilibrium in the norming phase. In other words, certain norms are established within the group. From here, they begin performing as a team once more. Pointing out such processes and emphasizing that they’re natural will help to make conflicts feel less of a personal issue and increase the chances of group members coming forth to express their needs.
3) Create a plan
After you’ve educated yourself (and your group), it is time to take action. The best way to do this is to assess the conflict with some of the following questions:
Where are you in the conflict phase? (Think back on Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development.)
What phase of group development are you in?
Are you encountering certain scenarios?
In asking these questions, you’ll better understand what typically happens in that type of situation. This better prepares you for dealing with it. A path will be revealed and you can determine a plan of action.
Conflict management is not only an important part of the business world, but it is also an inevitable part of it. With day to day human interactions, there will be disagreements that pop up. Conflicts themselves are not inherently bad. They’re a natural part of the human condition. The problem comes from the unhealthy ways in which conflicts are resolved (or not resolved at all). This is why we have conflict management strategies. Our world relies on human to human interactions. The business world, by that extent, is also reliant on these interactions. Refer to this guide whenever you need clarity on the subject.