Conflict, in any setting, is frustrating and uncomfortable. Like anyone else, I wish we lived in a world of complete peace, compliance, and agreement. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
You may avoid conflict in the workplace like the plague. However, sometimes, it can creep up on you before you know it, with either customers or other employees. That's when you must decide how you want to approach the conflict. Learning about conflict management and ways to handle upset customers is especially vital to an employee working in customer success.
Conflict management is the process for handling disputes and disagreements between two or multiple parties. The goal of this system is to minimize the negative factors that are influencing the conflict and encourage all participants to come to an agreement. Successful conflict management results in a mutually beneficial outcome that's agreed upon by each party.
It's rare to have a specific conflict management style that is generalized to every situation. Rather, humans judge each conflict and situation individually and decide the best way to handle it.
Here are some ways to judge a conflict and choose an appropriate conflict management strategy:
Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Conflict Management Style
1. How much do you value the person or issue?
It may influence you to choose one strategy over another based on how much you value the person with whom you have a conflict or the issue over which you are conflicted. It may not seem worth it to continue a long-term conflict if you're worried about ruining your relationship with someone, but it also may make your relationship stronger to come to a consensus.
In addition, you can judge the importance of the conflict based on how close to home the issue sits. Perhaps it's a matter of your morals or personal values, in which case it may be essential for you to prolong the conflict. If the issue is of little significance to you, though, it may be easier to let it go.
2. Do you understand the consequences?
You should be prepared for whatever consequences may entail either entering or not partaking in the conflict. Especially in a professional environment, there could be serious consequences for continuing a conflict with a higher-up. As long as you are made aware of the potential risks, you can decide whether or not to prolong the conflict.
Similarly, you may feel consequences if you don't enter the conflict. Perhaps, those will be personal, moral consequences for not standing up for your beliefs. Or, maybe, a wrong decision is made and executed because you didn't bring in a conflicting perspective. Regardless, give yourself a clear overview of all the positive and negative consequences beforehand.
3. Do you have the necessary time and energy to contribute?
By entering a conflict with a firm stance, you are preparing yourself for what could be a long-term ordeal requiring research, presentations, conversations, and stress. Before diving in, ensure that you have the time in your schedule to dedicate yourself to the conflict.
In addition -- and more importantly -- ensure that you care enough about the conflict that it's worth the energy you will need to pour into it every day. Going back and forth on a topic with others can be exhausting if it's not meaningful to you.
Based on these questions, you can determine which of the following conflict management styles you want to assume for the situation at hand.
The 5 Conflict Management Styles
An accommodating style forsakes your own needs or desires in exchange for those of others. You would be putting the concerns of others before your own. This style usually takes place when you either simply give in or are persuaded to give in.
This style could be appropriate to use when you care less about the issue than the others, want to keep the peace, feel as though you are in the wrong, or feel like you have no choice but to agree to the other point-of-view.
An avoiding style completely evades the conflict. You would neither pursue your beliefs nor those of the others involved. Simply, you would continuously postpone or completely dodge the conflict whenever it comes up.
This style could be appropriate to use when the conflict seems trivial, you don't have the time or need more time to think, you feel as though you have no chance of winning, or you're afraid of being met with resentment.
A compromising style attempts to find a solution that will at least partially please all parties. You would work to find a middle ground between all the needs, which would typically leave people unsatisfied or satisfied to a certain extent.
This style could be appropriate to use when it's more important to reach a solution than for the solution to be great, a deadline is rapidly approaching, you're at an impasse, or you need a temporary solution for the moment.
A collaborating style attempts to find a solution that will meet the needs of all parties. Rather than trying to find a middle ground solution, you would aim for a solution that actually satisfies everyone and ends up being a win-win situation.
This style could be appropriate when multiple perspectives need to be addressed, there is an important relationship present between the parties, the final solution is too important for anyone to be displeased, or the beliefs of multiple stakeholders must be represented.
A competing style takes a firm stance and refuses to see the perspectives of the other parties. You would keep pushing your viewpoint at others or keep rejecting their ideas until you get your way.
This style could be appropriate when you have to stand up for your rights or morals, need to make a quick decision and force others to get on board, need to end a long-term conflict, or have to prevent a terrible, opposing decision from being made.
Now that you're familiar with the different ways to approach conflict, let's see how these styles can be used in day-to-day conflicts.
Conflict Resolution Examples
Every conflict is different, and there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to solving each one. Each style has it's own strengths and weaknesses that make it effective depending on the conflict it's used in. Take a look at these five examples that outline how these conflict resolution styles can be used in real-life situations.
1. Accommodating an Angry Customer
Company policy can often be a roadblock to customer success, and it can put employees in a difficult position when dealing with a frustrated customer.
Imagine that you have a long line in your store and at the front is a customer who's demanding your employee to give them a refund. The customer's purchase was made over a year ago which is well past the company's “firm” one-month return policy. As your rep unsuccessfully tries to explain this to the customer, impatient people waiting at the back of the line are starting to return their products and leave the store.
This puts employees in a tricky situation where they need to fulfill both the customer's needs as well as the company's. In these cases, an accommodation approach is the best strategy because it produces a beneficial outcome for all parties involved.
The customer gets a refund, the other customers in line think this is great customer service, and the company doesn't lose any additional sales. Even though you may need to break company policy, rule-bending for one customer can end up saving your business with other customers who may be standing by.
2. Avoiding a Trivial Argument
The customer is always right — at least that's what the customer thinks. Customers like to be right and aren't easily swayed when your business tells them otherwise. Even if the detail is trivial, customers will take the time to argue their point which negatively impacts customer experience.
This type of situation occurs regularly with technical support teams who deal with complex or intricate products. Customers will call support lines claiming a product or feature is broken and the rep will find that the customer simply wasn't using the tool correctly. Support reps will ask customers if they tried following the recommended troubleshooting steps and customers, thinking the rep is being redundant, will say they have. However, when they actually go through the steps with the rep they realize the mistakes they had been making all along.
Whenever a customer claims your product or feature is broken and you know that it isn't, the best conflict management approach is to avoid. If your product isn't broken, then there's no need to waste time arguing with the customer over whether or not they completed certain troubleshooting steps.
Instead, go through the steps with them and show them that the product works. The customer will be smart enough to realize that user error may have played a larger role than they originally had thought.
3. Compromising When Reaching an Impasse
Customers, whether they feel like it or not, are logical humans just like you and me. They're capable of recognizing stressful and difficult situations, and they aren't interested in escalating them either. Customers are willing to come to a comprise so long as it allows them to continue working towards their goals.
One example of this can be seen in the food-service industry. Have you ever ordered a late-night pizza only to be disappointed that the toppings were wrong? Even though you're rightfully frustrated, you're probably not grabbing your keys and driving straight for the store.
Instead, most customers will call the business to report the issue. If it's before closing hours, the restaurant will send a complimentary pizza. But, if it's after-hours, the store will compromise with the customer by offering store credit for a future purchase.
While the customer may still be sad and hungry, they'll often be sympathetic to the employees who are about to clock out. Rather than making employees work longer and deliver another pizza, the company compromises with the customer by offering a free pizza at another time. Both parties had to make a small sacrifice but in the end they each profit from the outcome.
4. Collaborate With Willing Customers
The best resolutions to conflicts are the ones where both parties benefit without having to give up anything else in return. These situations are ideal for building customer loyalty but can be difficult to create and recognize. When your company does find chances to collaborate with your customers, it's important to capitalize on these opportunities and develop mutually beneficial relationships.
A real-life example of collaboration is the HubSpot Ideas Forum. This site operates as an open forum where customers can propose new ideas for HubSpot products. Users can upvote each other's ideas as well as comment on them to further emphasize a point.
HubSpot's developers closely monitor this forum to discover new ideas for product development. If they find an idea they like, they can mark the post to let the community know that the feature is being considered.
This collaboration benefits both HubSpot and it's customers because both sides are profiting from the website. On one end, the customers have an outlet to voice their continuous needs to the business and potentially receive new products. On the other end, HubSpot is able to collect customer feedback and use it to create effective products and features. Both sides are gaining resources that help them achieve their goals without having to sacrifice anything in return.
5. Competing for the Right Reasons
Some customers have a goal in mind and simply won't stop until they achieve it, regardless of the consequences. While this mindset sounds great for running a business, it can create serious conflicts in other environments.
For example, let's say a disgruntled customer walks into your store and begins insulting other customers, unprovoked. The customer makes offensive comments and actively tries to emotionally or even physically harm other customers.
This is a conflict where the best course of action is to compete with the customer. The customer is not only causing a distraction to your business but is creating an atmosphere that makes other customers feel threatened. No matter how much money this customer spends at your business, it will always be worth confronting them because it shows other customers that you value their business just as much.
Based on your personality type, we've outlined which conflict management style will bring you the most success.
Conflict Management Personality Types
Damian Killen and Danica Murphy wrote Introduction to Type® and Conflict, a book that uncovers the conflict management styles associated with each of the 16 personality types in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment.
Their theory states that the last two letters of someone's Type® are the strongest indicators of their conflict management strategy. The third letter determines how you make decisions: by Thinking (T) or Feeling (F). The fourth letter determines how you approach the outside world: by Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
Thinking vs. Feeling
Those who are prone to Thinking understand the opinions of all parties, create logical alternative solutions, are firm in their stance, and focus on analyzing and tolerating others in the situation.
Those who are prone to Feeling empathize with the interests of all parties, create solutions for growth, would rather change than make others change, and focus on accepting and appreciating others in the situation.
Judging vs. Perceiving
Those who are prone to Judging make decisions based on agreed-upon standards, take the necessary time to efficiently problem-solve, have a clear idea of the outcome, decide when to review, and don't like to bring up conflict again once it's solved.
Those who are prone to Perceiving use facts and check assumptions, exercise negotiation, actively listen, take breaks, and seek mediators to ensure harmony.
Any individual can have one of four combinations of these letters. We have analyzed the best conflict management styles based on these specific aspects of MBTI® personality types.
1. Thinking-Judging (TJ)
If you are a TJ, you will handle conflict logically and attempt to reach a solution sooner rather than later. However, you may not take the time to listen to everyone's opinions and might rush into an unstable solution. This might also mean that you ignore the emotions involved in the conflict by considering them to be distracting.
TJs will likely approach a Competing conflict management style.
Since you are so firm in your own beliefs and often ignore the beliefs of others, you might find yourself taking on a Competing style. The pros of this are that you gain a quick solution and maintain your self-respect and self-esteem when you're persistent with your beliefs. The cons are that you may ruin relationships with your opponents, miss the strengths in their argument, and be exhausted post-conflict.
To be successful with this conflict management style, you should use it when you feel strongly about your stance and feel that others aren't respecting you, rather than overrunning the valid opinions of those below you or on the same level.
2. Thinking-Perceiving (TP)
If you are a TP, you will devote extended time to handling conflicts and will often play the devil's advocate. In addition, you will fully analyze all the options and help come up with creative solutions. However, you may overlook the emotional needs of others at times or prolong the conflict for too long.
TPs will likely approach a Collaborating conflict management style.
Since you devote so much time to your conflicts and enjoy brainstorming creative solutions, you might find yourself taking on a Collaborating style. The pros of this are that you come with a win-win solution, bring in mutual respect and trust, split responsibility equally, and gain a reputation as a good negotiator. The cons are that it requires more time and energy to get the commitment of all parties, it may not be practical to please everyone, and it only works if all parties agree to mutual trust and creative brainstorming.
To be successful with this conflict management style, you should use it only for large-scale decisions with high impact that require the input and agreement of all parties since it's too time-consuming for smaller decisions.
3. Feeling-Judging (FJ)
If you are an FJ, you will strive for peace and a cordial end to a conflict. However, your need to end on friendly terms might lead you to end a conflict too early or be upset by those who try to logically analyze and prolong a conflict.
FJs will likely approach an Accommodating conflict management style.
Since you care so much about maintaining harmony and putting your relationships with others first, you will probably prefer an Accommodating style. The pros of this are you learn to let go of issues that aren't important, put first the needs of others who care about the issue, and let yourself see things from the perspectives of others. The cons are that people may take advantage of you if they know you easily give up your argument, you may lose self-confidence, and you may never have your points of view taken seriously in the future.
To be successful with this conflict management style, assess each situation separately. If the issue is way more important to others than yourself, it makes sense to put their concerns first. You don't wanna ruin an important relationship over a petty conflict.
FJs might also take on an Avoiding conflict management style.
Since you like to keep the peace and sometimes end conflicts prematurely, you might take on an Avoiding style. The pros of this are that you can give yourself more time to prepare for the issue before diving in and it's a low-stress approach when the conflict seems trivial. The cons are that withdrawing from the conflict could be interpreted as your agreement with the opposing side and could actually ruin an important relationship that needs to talk out conflicts.
To be successful with this conflict management style, understand that avoiding a conflict isn't going to keep harmony and improve your relationship with that person. Only use this style when you simply need more time to plan or need to focus on other larger tasks and conflicts first.
4. Feeling-Perceiving (FP)
If you are an FP, you will actively listen to all points of view in the conflict and give others an equal chance to explain their opinions. However, you can get frustrated by those who try to come to a rapid solution and avoid logically analyzing what you consider to be negative alternatives.
FPs will likely approach a Compromising conflict management style.
Since you patiently listen to what others have to say on the issue and quickly push off negative options, you will probably prefer a Compromising style. The pros of this are that it's a faster option than attempting to come to a win-win situation, it can provide a temporary solution until a better one is found, and it lowers stress between parties since everyone had a say in the final solution. The cons are that it may end up in a lose-lose situation if everyone is only partially pleased, it doesn't quite build mutual trust, and it may require returning to the issue at a later date.
To be successful with this conflict management style, only use it as a temporary fix when time is of the essence on difficult decisions. If not everyone is pleased with the solution, the issue should be reopened later so that it can be further discussed.
Next, read this post on conflict resolution tips to put your conflict management skills to the test.
Originally published Mar 19, 2019 4:41:00 PM, updated August 31 2020
Topics:Customer Service Skills