Tips & Strategies for Workplace Conflict Resolution
Conflict, especially interpersonal conflicts are part and parcel of life, and they may arise in almost any kind of atmosphere be it organisations or personal relations. While interpersonal conflict is a fact of life, what is important is to learn to resolve it effectively so that it does not increase your stress levels. Conflict resolution is a skill that is important for everyone.
The first step towards conflict resolution is to take a call on what strategy to use to address the conflict effectively. But before you think about the strategy, it is important that you identify the cause of this conflict and understand the type of conflict.
Types of Conflict
There are three different types of conflict – personal or relational conflicts, conflicts of interest, and instrumental conflicts:
- Personal or relational conflicts are usually conflicts which pertain to identity or image, or essential aspects of a relationship such as loyalty, perceived betrayal, lack of respect, or breach of confidence.
- Conflicts of interest pertain to how the means of achieving goals are scattered, regarding money, time, space, and staff. They may also be about certain factors about these, such as knowledge and expertise or relative importance. For instance, a couple disagreeing over whether to spend the incentive on holiday or to repair the roof of the house.
- Instrumental conflicts pertain to goals, procedures, structures, and means: be it tangible or structural within the organisation or at an individual level.
Conflict Resolution Strategies
If conflicts are resolved at an early stage, it’s a relatively easier task because there is less likelihood of people taking sides, or positions are not so well established. Even the negative emotions are not at their extreme level. One of the best ways to address a conflict in its early stages is trying to negotiate between the two parties involved. Furthermore, it is less likely for the involved parties to seek the support of mediators, arbitration, or even a court judgment. If you adopt the following five strategies to deal with conflicts, it may help to determine who wins and who loses:
- The Competing or Fighting Strategy
This strategy works best in a classic winning or losing situation where strength and power of an individual is the deciding factor of who wins the conflict. This strategy has significance, but anyone who uses this strategy needs to be aware that it will create a loser and if the losing party does not get an outlet to express their concerns, it may lead to harbouring ill feeling amongst the two parties.
- The Collaborative Strategy
This is one of the best strategies of conflict resolution, as the ideal outcome of this strategy is a win-win situation for both the parties involved. However, it needs the investment of time from those individuals who are involved, to work through the challenges and find a way to resolve the issue in a manner that is agreeable for all.
- The Negotiation Strategy
This is an excellent strategy because it is likely to generate a better result than mere winning or losing. However, it is not a complete win-win situation like the previous strategy. In this strategy, both parties need to give up something in favour of an agreeable middle path solution. This strategy is less time consuming than the collaborative approach, but it is like to result in a lesser degree of commitment to the outcome.
- The Denial Strategy
According to this strategy, everyone is in denial mode pretending as if there is no problem at all. The one advantage that this strategy provides is that it helps those involved in conflict some time to cool down before getting involved in any discussion. However, this strategy cannot be used if the conflict refuses just to die down. There is a likelihood of it creating a lose-lose situation for both the parties involved, as there is bound to be bad feelings since the air has not been cleared by being in the denial mode. Since the ”air isn’t cleared by holding discussions, it may result in what is known as Transactional Analysis terms such as; I am not OK, you are not OK too!
- The Superficial Smoothing Strategy
On adopting this strategy for conflict resolution, harmony is maintained on the outside, but internally there is still underlying conflict. It is similar to the above situation with the only difference that here probably one individual is ok with this smoothing, while the other individual continues to remain in conflict, thereby creating a win or lose situation again. This strategy may work if you are trying to preserve a very close relationship, as it is essential to you instead of conflict. However, this strategy is not useful if other individuals feel the need to deal with the situation instead of smoothing it.
Useful Skills for Handling Conflicts
There are a lot of skills which are essential for handling conflicts. Some of the important skills are outlined below:
- Assertiveness is one of the key skills which can handle conflicts effectively. By being assertive, you can express your opinion clearly and firmly, but without any kind of aggression.
- Active listening skill is a boon in times of handling conflicts. Practice this skill to ensure that you understand the situation between both the parties involved, whether you are a potential mediator or an active participant in the discussion.
- Understand and recognise the emotion of both self and others is also an essential skill while handling conflicts. Emotions cannot be termed as either good or bad, but they may be appropriate or inappropriate, and they can prove to be useful in managing conflicts. You can help others to recognise when emotions are considered inappropriate or when it’s fine to express them.
- Empathy is a wonderful skill to possess while handling conflicts. If you can put yourself in the shoes of others and encourage the individuals involved in the conflict to do the same, conflict resolution can be a tad easier.
While handling conflicts either as a mediator or as a direct participant, it’s important to know your limitations. If after a certain point you no longer feel confident that your intervention is going to assist them, then it is perfectly fine to take a step backwards and ask for help from a trained mediator. It is always better to seek help instead of stepping in when unsure and making matters worse.