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Nobody likes conflict. We shun it. We run away from it. We groan every time we have to engage in it.
But conflicts and disputes are part of the normal human experience, especially at work.
By developing healthy responses to conflict, we develop skills that can serve us for a lifetime.
Let’s discuss what conflict resolution is and some strategies that you can use to achieve it.
What is conflict resolution?
Conflict resolution is a communication skill.
It offers a tried-and-tested way of resolving disputes among parties. The end result should be both peaceful and fruitful. It focuses on mutual respect while aiming at solutions that are a win-win for all parties involved.
The goal of conflict resolution is to bring any conflict situation to a peaceful end. It also aims to avoid any bad feelings or retribution in the future by fully resolving the matter at hand.
In business, there are many different management styles. Similarly, there are several conflict resolution strategies.
None are necessarily better or worse than another, and they each have their own pros and cons.
However, some management styles are better for particular situations than others.
5 conflict management strategies
Whether you know it or not, we all have conflict management strategies that we fall back on.
Conflict resolution experts Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann codified these strategies into five key behaviors:
Since we often use a variety of strategies to resolve conflict, let’s take a closer look at each behavior.
For some, the pain of confrontation is just too great.
Those who employ an avoiding strategy withdraw. They refuse to participate in a healthy conflict resolution discussion. But without true input, a conflict can never be resolved.
What’s more, at work, there's a real loss to the company since any contribution of fresh ideas is lost.
Those entering a workplace conflict resolution discussion with a competitive mindset have a take-no-prisoners approach. And a win-at-all-costs outlook.
There is no cooperation with the opposing side, and the person practicing this strategy expects to claim victory in the end. Unfortunately, those with differing points of view will not be acknowledged.
Since conversations are one-sided, key issues within the conflict can easily be overlooked.
Compromising is a strategy that blends both assertiveness and a willingness to negotiate.
While you may not get all that you want, you will get enough for you to be satisfied. While both parties may not be completely happy, the conflict’s resolution will feel even-handed and just.
When we quickly give in and accept another’s position in a conflict, we are employing an accommodating strategy.
It’s submitting to the demands of the other party without acknowledging one’s own wants and needs. While it may look like a means for resolution, it often leads to unresolved issues.
Collaboration enables one to put forth their needs while at the same time cooperating with the other side.
Through a co-creative process, conversations are aimed at jointly creating a solution that brings everyone on board. Collaborative efforts ensure that all parties are satisfied with a solution.
How to resolve conflict: 11 techniques
If you’re not sure how to resolve conflict, try using these 11 conflict resolution techniques with your team:
1. Choose your strategy wisely
There is no right or wrong answer about how and when to employ a conflict resolution strategy.
For example, if the matter at hand is not that important, it may be natural to use an accommodating strategy to move an issue forward. But for more important issues, it may be critical to take a firmer posture to achieve desired outcomes.
To build team cohesion and help resolve any outstanding conflicts, here are some key skills you can leverage:
2. Don’t be defensive
We all get defensive when we feel our backs are to the wall. But such postures keep us from seeing, let alone understanding, the positions of others.
It’s always in everyone’s interest to try and grow the mindset of the opposing party. While you don’t have to agree with their views, closing down prevents a conflict from moving forward to resolution.
By trying to put yourself in another’s shoes, you can go a long way in diffusing a volatile situation. While you don’t have to, try to see the reason in another’s argument. Instead of saying “no,” try to actively understand the opposing side’s position.
This is your chance to observe from a different perspective.
3. Listen actively
Listening, not talking, is the key to successful communication.
This is especially true when it comes to conflict resolution and managing team conflict. You need to understand what someone’s underlying concern about the situation is.
While it’s natural for us to talk about our own issues, we often find it difficult to listen to the arguments of others. What’s more, for managers who want to solve problems quickly, it may seem natural to do all of the talking when faced with a conflict.
But it’s much better to allow space for others to explain their viewpoints without disruption. Respectfully create an environment where everyone shares the spotlight, then really focus on what they’re saying.
You may discover a new point to their argument, helping to drive collaborative problem-solving.
Coaches often employ active listening skills to be truly present for their clients.
Working with an opposing party requires deep listening and the ability to mirror and restate what has been said.
If you can truly understand another’s objectives, compassion can come into play and lead to a quicker resolution. What’s more, by leveraging active listening, you reduce the chance of misunderstanding and misalignment.
4. Be humble
Even if you hold the strongest position in an argument, there still exists the chance you could be wrong.
That’s the key to humility.
Consequently, humble leaders don’t use a competitive strategy when engaging with others. They listen to all opinions instead of blindly pushing their agenda forward.
What’s more, they are consistently open to feedback, even when it’s about their conflict management skills.
5. Don’t take it personally
Your opinions are not you.
A mature leader realizes that arguments aren’t directed at them personally but at the issues at hand.
When an argument is attached to your ego, it will be much more difficult to engage in any level of constructive compromise. Taking an approach of active detachment will allow you to depersonalize the situation and come to a resolution faster.
6. Keep calm
Conflict resolution breaks down in the presence of anger. This happens especially when leaders are involved.
Set the appropriate communication tone for your team and those with opposing views by remaining calm at all times.
Of course, you can display emotion related to anger when you’re preparing your argument. But never when you’re engaged in the thick of it. Emotional awareness is key when trying to remain impartial.
But before you begin any conflict resolution meeting, it’s essential that you remain calm in order to reach a solution that works for both parties.
A great manager has the emotional intelligence to keep their own feelings in check.
7. Look for non-verbal cues
Resistance in a conflictual situation doesn’t necessarily come in the form of raised voices and angry words. Nonverbal communication plays a big part, too.
Body language and subtle nonverbal cues can speak volumes as to what is really going on.
This is especially true if someone is introverted or not used to dealing with conflict directly. Your ability to “read the room” and identify when someone’s body language doesn’t match their words is essential to drive an argument to resolution.
8. Show willingness
With time and effort, you can master a variety of conflict resolution skills.
That said, your ultimate goal in any conflict is to reach an agreement between both parties. Sometimes this requires a willingness to set aside personal objectives and ego in order to reach a collective solution.
What’s more, deadlocks between parties can be resolved early and quickly when you display a commitment and willingness to resolve the issue.
9. Practice patience
Conflict is not something to be avoided. Rather, it’s something to be managed, even when we want conflicts to be resolved quickly.
But lasting solutions can take time, especially if both parties have a strong commitment to their argument. If you rush to a resolution, others may not feel heard, creating a tenuous agreement.
If you apply the above skills, listen to all arguments, and cultivate patience, you’re likely to achieve a timely resolution.
10. Remain impartial
Showing favoritism or being partial to one side won’t solve the issue — in fact, it could make it worse.
Don’t immediately point fingers before you hear both parties give their explanation. Try to look at each side of the conflict for what it is. Avoid personally taking the people involved and their personalities into account.
11. Stay positive
During an interpersonal conflict, it's easy to sink to the lowest emotional state of someone involved.
If someone is starting to raise their voice or become negative, try to cut it off early. Redirect the conversation to a more positive tone.
Remind the parties involved that you're trying to reach a solution that everyone is happy with.
A positive attitude will keep people more open and accepting. And it will help the conversation from devolving into a shouting match.
Conflict resolution skills examples
Let’s take a look at two examples where a manager used their conflict resolution skills to solve a problem in the workplace:
Conflict resolution situation 1
One of your employees comes to you and complains that another employee is being too controlling over the department’s radio. They will only play their favorite station, which is a genre of music that not everyone on the team enjoys. The employee also won’t let anyone else adjust the volume. They brought the radio from home and claim it as their own.
You use a compromising resolution style to try and find an outcome that would be good for everyone.
You listen to all sides of the conflict. Then you explain to the owner of the radio that people find it unfair they have complete control over the department’s music.
You propose a couple of solutions to the team as a compromise.
Each person could be assigned a different day of the week to choose a radio station for the department.
Alternatively, the radio owner could take the radio home. Then, each employee could use headphones to listen to their own preferred music at their workstation. That way, everyone could get what they want, without interrupting or inconveniencing others.
Conflict resolution situation 2
An employee comes to you complaining about repetitive strain injuries from their workstation. Their arms and hands are sore. Their eyes feel strained, and their neck hurts from having to hunch over.
They say that if something doesn’t change, they’re in so much pain that they will have to quit.
You use an accommodating conflict resolution style to help them fix the problem.
You actively listen to their problems and make them feel heard. You also let them know that you sympathize with them and want to help them fix the problem.
First, you suggest that they go over the company’s ergonomic training. They can check for themselves if their desk is properly set up. If not, they can make adjustments based on the training and see if it helps resolve their concerns.
You let them know that if they can’t set up their equipment in an ergonomic way, then you can help find another solution. You tell them that you may be able to accommodate them by buying a special ergonomic keyboard or mouse or even a new chair or desk.
Start effectively using conflict resolution skills today
The workplace, or even our personal lives, can quickly spiral out of control if we have an unresolved conflict.
That’s why it’s important to use effective conflict resolution strategies to nip the problem in the bud.
Now you know some popular conflict resolution strategies, and you’ve seen examples of them in practice. It’s time to try applying them to your own life.
If you’re looking to create a better business environment with less conflict, give BetterUp a try.
See how BetterUp can help your business with conflict resolution by requesting a customized demo.
BetterUp Fellow Coach