Conflict is inevitable when people work together in an organization. In fact, it’s a good thing because it most often means that those involved care enough about the situation to express their differences or discontent. If mismanaged, however, it can lead to undesirable outcomes. By using the right approach in the right situation, leaders can effectively deal with conflict, increasing the odds that the dynamic becomes productive. Here are five approaches to managing conflict with guidelines for using each one.
Backing away is most effective in situations where the stakes are low and the issue is not particularly important. Not everything is worth your time and effort, so pick your battles wisely. Sometimes a leader should intentionally stay out of staff conflicts in order to let those involved learn to handle their own situations. Walking away can sometimes be your smartest move. Or, use avoidance to buy time and gather more facts, in preparation to more actively engage.
Winning is not always the mark of good conflict resolution. When discussing opposing views with others, you may discover their perspectives make more sense. They might have a stronger argument or a better idea than yours. Giving in, then, is your best approach. It demonstrates your open-mindedness and ability to be influenced by others. Or, when something matters much more to the other person than it does to you, accommodating them preserves the relationship. You can’t argue about everything without doing damage.
Stand Your Ground
When you know you are right and the stakes are high, pushing for what you want may be necessary. How you go about it, however, greatly influences the outcome. If you win in a manner than makes others think they have lost not only the argument, but also their pride, you may find them waiting to get you on the next round! Battle with solid arguments based on fact. Stay away from judgmental comments that make the other party look bad, thereby personalizing the issue. Leaders must hone this style to use when policies, laws, principles, and ethics have to be upheld.
Use this approach when both sides are willing to give up something in order to reach a middle ground. Issues involving due dates, money, staff numbers, workload – anything quantifiable – creates the best context for bargaining. To be fair, what each party gives up should be equivalent, rather than one party conceding more than another. Compromising makes sense when the issue at hand is of moderate importance to those involved in the conflict.
Work a Deal
This requires the ability to be a good problem solver, looking for a way to get the most for all those involved in the dispute. Answer the question What if? What if we delayed Project C to make room for Project D now? What if I take something off of your schedule to allow you more time to complete this assignment, given your heavy workload? What if I can give you some staff time from my area to help with your shortage for the next month? An even exchange makes for the best outcome. This approach builds the collaborative spirit that’s desirable when important issues are on the table and everyone has a vested interest.
Resist the urge to handle conflict with the same approach each time. Master the art of matching the approach to the situation and you will soon find that conflict becomes a productive force in the work unit you lead.