Managing conflict involves dealing with a situation in which the participants have different opinions or goals in an open and fair-minded way, while coping with any emotions that may be present. There are a number of guidelines that can help us to understand the key points of managing conflict, they include:
- Conflict needs to be addressed, not ignored
Hoping that disagreements will ‘just go away’ usually ends up making things worse. So having the courage to engage directly with the people who are upset with each other, at an early stage in the conflict, is one of the first steps in managing conflict effectively.
- Conflict is normal and can be a good thing if it is handled well
It is common for people to have different points of views, and to a greater or lesser extent we would expect to see some level of conflict occur on a regular basis. If these differing viewpoints can be debated in a constructive way then sometimes good options, that might not have otherwise been apparent, can arise out of the confrontation.
- Find out what everyone’s point of view is before suggesting any action
All those involved in a conflict situation have their particular point of view and taking the time to understand their ‘story’ (even if we disagree with it) is a key skill in defusing tension.
- It is possible to work things out
By using conflict management tools and techniques (e.g. by separating intentions from actions) it is possible to develop win/win solutions.
Assess your current approach
Reflect on your current approach to managing conflict. Think about the four statements above. What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses to be?
Think about what evidence you have to support this view.
Think about asking for feedback from those you work with. (Try taking the ‘Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument’)
Decide what changes you want to make and set yourself a goal(s).
Hoda Lacey (2000) How To Resolve Conflict In The Workplace
Looks at developing a win/win approach, using assertiveness and mapping techniques.
Thomas Crum (1989) The Magic Of Conflict
Simon & Schuster
How to defuse confrontation, includes breathing and meditation exercises for staying calm.
Identify from these books what you want to put into practice.
Discuss your thoughts with your line manager/mentor.
Identify other books on conflict that may be helpful to you.
Watch people who are good at managing conflict
Identify individuals in the organisation who you (and/or your line manager/mentor) consider role models in conflict management. Observe what they do.
How does what they do compare to what less effective people do?
How does what you see relate to your approach?
‘Difficult Conversation: How To Discuss What Matters Most’
by Stone, Patton & Heen (one CD & also available as a paperback)
From the Harvard Negotiation Project this CD covers the structure of difficult conversations and how to manage emotions. It deals with both work and social contexts.
Then - Most importantly
Go through the steps shown in the How to Use Our Tutorials page to really cement and develop what you've learned into a useful part of your business skill set.
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