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Tackling Conflict In The Workplace

In this week’s blog, we explore conflict management and share with you a brief overview of some styles and strategies in dealing with conflict in the workplace.

According to Thomas & Kilman (1972) there are five conflict management styles or strategies that people employ. These are: Competing, Accommodating, Compromising, Avoiding, and Collaborating:

COMPETING – “It’s my way or the highway”

In a nutshell: where one uses their formal authority or other power to satisfy their own concerns without regard to the concerns of the party that you are in conflict with

Also known as: Dominant style

Goal: I win, you lose (force)

Pros: decisive, assertive, addresses personal needs

Cons: can damage relationships, shut others down, it may cause the other side not to voice important concerns because they will be ignored anyway.

Use: when you have to implement an unpopular decision (e.g cost cutting, discipline etc.); when a quick, decisive action is vital (e.g emergency); or it is important to let others know how important an issue is to you.

ACCOMMODATING –“It’s ok with me, whatever you want”

In a nutshell: Setting aside your own personal needs because you want to please others in order to keep the peace

Also known as: Smoothing or Harmonizing style

Goal: I lose, you win (yield)

Pros: can preserve harmonious relationships; can admit there is a better way

Cons: unassertive behaviour, can lead to resentment by not getting your needs met, can diminish your influence

Use: When one is wrong or when you want to minimize losses when you are going to lose anyway because it preserves relationships.

COMPROMISING – “You got to give a little to get a little”

In a nutshell: Attempting to resolve a conflict by identifying a solution that is partially satisfactory to both parties, but not completely satisfactory to either.

Also known as: Sharing style

Goal: I win some, you win some (middle ground)

Pros: fixes things quickly, finds temporary settlements to complex issues, and has back up strategy when competition or collaboration fails.

Cons: can play games, bypass longer-term solutions, compromises found may be dissatisfying and may need to be revised

Use: when both parties are equally powerful and willing to cooperate, and they want to preserve the relationship for the future; as a backup mode when collaboration or competition fails to be successful.

AVOIDING – “I’ll think about it tomorrow”

In a nutshell: Not paying attention to the conflict and not taking any action to resolve it; there is indifference to the outcome of the issue and the relationship and the person withdraws or postpones dealing with the conflict.

Also known as: Flight mode or withdrawal

Goal: I lose, you lose

Pros: doesn’t sweat the small stuff, delays may be useful

Cons: avoidance builds up and then blows, important issues don’t get dealt with, it can take more energy to avoid then deal with at the time

Use: Avoiding only makes sense if the issue is minor or when conflicting parties need to cool down. Use only if you are certain that you are not employing it as a way to escape an unavoidable conflict. The avoiding style is only a delaying tactic and if use it too often decisions could be made without your input.

COLLABORATING – “Two heads are better than one”

In a nutshell: requires an open discussion of all the issues and concerns, exploration of alternative solutions, and honesty and commitment from all the parties. To be successful, the collaborating style participants need to be able to surface concerns in a non-threatening way and think imaginatively

Also known as: Problem solving or integrative style

Goal: I win, you win

Pros: finds the best solution for everyone, which leads to high commitment, higher creativity in problem solving, team-building

Cons: takes time and energy; if applied to all conflicts it can be draining and unnecessary

Use: when both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised; when your objective is to learn; to merge insights from people with different perspectives on the problem; to gain commitment by Incorporating other’s concerns into a consensual decision; to work through hard feelings which have been interfering with an interpersonal work relationship

Now that we’ve provided you with a brief overview of each conflict style, the goal is to develop skills in all of the styles so that you can manage conflict and turn it into something constructive. All the style are relevant and can be useful in different contexts. When used strategically, these styles can help you navigate and manage conflict with success. If you think one is better than the other, you will be locked into certain styles that will not serve you or you will judge others who may employ those styles at times. The trick is to understand when to use which style.

What’s your thoughts about these management styles? Which conflict resolution style do you find the most effective or ineffective? We would love to hear your thoughts! Please leave us a comment below.

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