As much as we'd all love to work in an organization that's free of disagreements and conflicts, that idea 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 skills, and how you can adapt your style to diffusing conflict within your team and with customers.
Conflict Management Skills
Conflict management can be approached using a variety of different styles. While these styles may differ, every method utilizes the same management skills. To successfully manage conflict, you’ll need to hound each of these skills and learn the right time to exercise each one. Below are some of the core skills and characteristics that you’ll need to adopt if you want to effectively manage workplace conflicts.
Active listening is a skill used by salespeople to better connect them with customers during a pitch. However, it’s just as useful a skill when trying to manage and resolve conflicts.
Active listening begins with intently focusing on what your customer has to say. Make note of their phrasing then respond using their same wording. This not only demonstrates that you were listening, but it will also help clear up any confusion about your argument. Additionally, be sure to ask questions when you’re confused about a point and focus on identifying the other person’s goals.
Emotional intelligence describes the ability to read and understand your emotions, as well as the emotions of others. This is incredibly important for conflict management because it prevents escalation. If you can effectively interpret your opposition’s emotions, it’s easier to communicate with them without provoking them. If you can eliminate frustration and anger from the conflict, people will be more likely to focus on compromising because they aren’t distracted by their emotions.
Conflicts are rarely simple or easy to overcome. People don’t like to be wrong and will often hold their stance on an issue until they’re right or proven wrong. If you’re looking to resolve a conflict, it’s important to keep in mind that the problem may not be solved right away, even if the solution is obvious.
No matter what the conflict is, you still need to take the time to listen to every participant and value each argument evenly. Even if there’s a clear answer, rushing to a resolution can make people feel like they’re left out in the decision-making process. Taking the time to equally consider all options now can help create a long-term solution that will save you a headache later.
Conflicts can be difficult to resolve because they often never stay focused solely on the conflict itself. The conflict usually acts as an initial spark that ignites previous tension that has built up between the two parties over time. Now the problem that started the conflict can’t be resolved because of the historical bias that exists between the participants.
In these cases, it’s important to separate the conflict from the people who are involved with it. Don’t focus on the people and their personal characteristics, instead, look at the problem itself and center your energy on finding a middle ground. While you probably can’t solve your personal issues with the other person, you can definitely work on the tangible issues that impede you from meeting goals.
It’s hard to come to an agreement if no one is happy about it. Even if you do, a half-hearted compromise doesn’t motivate you to actually follow through on your promise either. In many cases, it can even provide a participant with an escape from having to continue to deal with the conflict altogether.
Being positive with your conflict management is a great way to keep progress moving forward. Conflicts are full of roadblocks and you’ll need to be willing to overcome them if you want to come to a resolution. Having the right attitude towards facing the conflict can become a catalyst for other participants who may be more weary of the interaction.
Conflicts create a relationship between the participants that doesn’t end with the resolution of the problem. This relationship lasts forever and needs to be nurtured for the conflict to remain solved.
Creating an open line of communication between the two parties is the best approach for fostering a healthy, long-term relationship. Both parties can check in on one another and make sure that both ends of the agreement are being upheld. If new challenges arise, this communication channel makes it easier for participants to address the roadblock without risking any progress they’ve previously made.
While these skills can help you and your team manage conflicts and prevent them from escalating, it’s important to understand how you can use them in action to work towards resolutions. In the next section, we break down some of the ways you can use these skills to produce effective conflict resolutions.
Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict resolution is the process in which two or more parties work towards a solution to a problem or dispute. The issue negatively affects one party or multiple and has escalated to the point where it needs to be addressed. Participants are then required to work together to produce a common agreement that resolves the issue.
The management skills that we listed above are crucial for conflict resolution because they help people produce effective, long-term solutions. Utilizing these skills will help reduce miscommunication and create more opportunities for participants to come to a common ground.
If you’re not quite sure how you can best use those skills to resolve your debates, take a look at these tips we recommend considering when approaching your next conflict.
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 their point of view 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 on the offensive is also disrespectful and creates a negative foundation where 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 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's 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, let the other person explain themselves, uninterrupted. You may find that you misinterpreted their original argument and 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 born 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 before you 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 them may make sense. An accommodating style may work when the other party seems to care much more about the solution than you do. And, a competing style 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.