As much as we'd all love to work in an organization that is free of disagreements and conflicts, that is simply unreasonable. Unfortunately, conflict is a major part of work and life, in general.
Many of us might fear conflict. We want everyone to be satisfied and for every workday to be a breeze. However, conflict is also a healthy, important part of a job. It means that people are learning to both stand up for their beliefs and compromise on some matters. Overall, conflict resolution is an important process for all employees to undergo.
In this blog post, we'll review different conflict management styles, and how you can adapt your style to diffusing conflict within your team and with customers.
The 5 Conflict Management Styles
Those who adopt an accommodating style constantly put others before themselves and, thus, simply give in or are persuaded to give in to the opposing party.
Those who adopt an avoiding style postpone or evade the conflict, so they pursue neither their own solution nor the solution of the opposing party.
Those who adopt a compromising style work to find a middle-ground solution that leaves parties unsatisfied or only partially satisfied with the end result.
Those who adopt a collaborating style work to find a new solution that meets the needs and desires of all parties and creates a win-win situation.
Those who adopt a competing style remain firm in their stance and refuse to see any opposing arguments, so they typically get their way.
Keeping these conflict management styles in mind, here is a list of specific skills to utilize during conflict resolution in order to create the most effective and efficient process possible.
When dealing with conflict, one can undertake one of these five strategies. For more information, check out this article on conflict management styles.
14 Conflict Resolution Skills Every Customer Service Professional Can Use
1. Don't jump to the defense.
In any conflict, whether it be professional or personal, it's easy to jump to the defense. Your banter might include a series of no's and "yes, but" statements that show that you're unable to see another perspective.
Rather than getting defensive about an attack on your argument, take it as an opportunity to see things from a different point-of-view. You don't have to agree with that person, but you can try to understand where they're coming from. Just as you have your opinion, they have theirs and refusing to hear theirs creates an impossible scenario to navigate. Instead, change those "yes, but" statements into "I understand, and" statements that build off one another, rather than tearing each other down.
2. Don't point fingers.
On the opposite side, jumping to the offense is also disrespectful and creates a negative foundation from which a final solution is often hopeless.
Don't put blame on others or create a space in which someone feels unsafe to voice their opinion. The best way to solve a conflict is by allowing each person the ability to frame their argument without being blamed or shut down. After all, you wouldn't appreciate the same being done to you, either.
3. Let the person explain themselves, and actively listen.
Listening is a huge aspect of conflict resolution that is typically overlooked. Your goal is often to get your voice in as much as possible so you can explain every little detail of your argument and try as hard as you can to get the opposing party to see your side.
Instead, zipper those lips for a while, and let the other person explain themselves, uninterrupted. You may find that you misinterpreted their original argument. You'll be more equipped to handle compromising or collaborating on a new solution when you've taken the time to listen, think, and plan.
4. Use "I" statements.
Similarly to pointing fingers, a series of statements that begin with "you" clearly come off as blaming. Conflict isn't about what the other person is doing wrong; it's about what you believe you're doing right.
Thus, using "I" statements, such as "I feel like I'm not getting the chance to explain myself" rather than "You're not listening to me" can totally transform your conversation. These sentences will make your argument more about your emotions, opinions, personal beliefs, and morals, rather than about all the things you don't like about the opposing party. No one can disagree with something you believe or standby, and it makes for a more respectful debate.
5. Maintain a calm tone.
No effective conflict resolution was ever borne from anger and tears. You need to remain level-headed in order to think rationally about a solution that appeases both parties.
Wait until you've let out your emotions about the conflict to plan a time to meet and discuss with the opposing party. You're allowed to yell, cry, vent, or whatever else you need, but do it on your own time. When you enter the conflict resolution meeting, you should be calm and ready to debate with consideration for differing perspectives.
6. Show a willingness to compromise or collaborate.
Depending on the situation, other conflict management styles may be more effective. For smaller, trivial conflicts, avoiding may make sense. Accommodating may work when the other party seems to care much more about the solution than you do. And, competing could be the choice when there is limited time to make a decision and you simply need to put your foot down.
However, in most other significant conflicts, it's essential to come to some sort of agreement between both parties. Thus, you sometimes need to let go of your pride and your grip on your argument. Show the opposing party that, as much as you care about the conflict and about your side, you care more about coming to a solution that pleases everyone and has the necessary impact.
7. Don't talk behind people's backs.
What happens between you and the opposing party should stay between you and them, unless its absolutely necessary to divulge the details of your conflict. Conflict resolution should always be built on honesty with one another and trust that what was said will remain secret.
While you may sometimes have the urge to vent, consider other options to do so that won't affect the reputation of that person. You could write out your feelings in a journal or talk to someone who has no ties to that person and keep their name anonymous. This way, you can protect the privacy of the conversation.
8. Don't take anything personally.
A conflict with a customer or team member is typically not a conflict with you, personally. It usually involves your professional role or something that occurred to or with you. Thus, a conflict that emerges is never an attack on you.
Many people get defensive or upset or refuse to budge on an argument because they cling to their viewpoint as a part of themselves. If you can learn to separate yourself from the conflict, it will be a lot easier to accept compromise or a collaborated solution that is, at the end of the day, better for all parties involved.
9. Pay close attention to nonverbal communication.
Not everyone is great at handling conflict head-on. These are the people who might typically lean towards avoiding or accommodating as their conflict management styles. Basically, these people don't like conflict and won't always be transparent with you about what they want or need. In these situations, it's important to pay attention to their nonverbal communication.
Body language can tell you when someone is saying one thing but means another. By being emotionally aware, you can notice when someone's posture, gestures, or facial expressions differ from their words. When someone says "I'm fine," you can tell they're not fine if they avert their eyes. Then, you can create an environment that makes that person feel more comfortable being honest with you.
10. Prioritize resolving the conflict over being right.
A conflict in the workplace is typically one that involves more than just yourself. Perhaps it's a frustrating call with an angry customer or an issue with a policy change implemented by your manager. Whatever it may be, the situation goes beyond you.
Thus, when you're trying to resolve the conflict, you might need to take a step back and assess the situation in such a way. Recognize that, even if you have a strong opinion on one end of the spectrum, it might be beneficial to wave the white flag if it ultimately improves the conditions for everyone else. Conflict resolution is occasionally about making those sacrifices.
11. Know when to apologize and forgive.
Two of the hardest words to say are, "I'm sorry." It's not easy to apologize when you feel like you were right all along. Don't let your stubborn attitude and pride deter you from making amends with the opposing party.
In an instance when the party might be responsible for apologizing to you, you may feel so riled up about comments they made that you don't think you can forgive them. However, these relationships are professional, first. Put aside your personal annoyances and forgive that person. This will make for a healthier relationship moving forward.
12. Focus on the conflict at hand and not past ones.
In attempting to resolve a conflict, you may start getting frustrated with the other person. This can bring up memories of past conflicts you've had with that person. And, in the heat of the moment, it can feel like the perfect time to bring those up, too.
I like to consider a 48-hour rule. If a conflict emerges or there's something that bothers you about someone else, you should reach out and ask to discuss it within 48 hours. Once that time frame has passed, you should let it go. So, any pent-up frustrations about past conflicts that were never resolved should not be brought up later on when trying to resolve a different conflict. The time has passed, and it's important to remain in the present.
13. Use humor, when appropriate.
Using humor to lighten the mood during conflict resolution is only appropriate in conflicts that are not personal. You never want to offend someone by making a joke about something that is a sensitive topic.
Instead, consider this to be a tool to make you both loosen up and feel more comfortable discussing a solution. Read the opposing party, and use your best judgment to decide if humor is something they would appreciate. Sometimes, that's all it takes to end an argument and turn it into a constructive conversation.
14. Remember the importance of the relationship.
At the end of the day, a conflict is usually one small roadblock in an, otherwise, healthy relationship. While you may not necessarily be friends with that person, you probably aren't usually butting heads.
How far are you willing to go to protect your argument? Are you willing to ruin a relationship over it? If not -- which, hopefully, is never the case except in very serious circumstances -- then breathe and take it as it goes. In most cases, you won't even remember the conflict after some time has passed. So, learn to put your relationships first. That will create a more collected and respectful conflict resolution process.