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What is Your Conflict Management Style

April 8, 2015

By: Terri Williams

Let’s be honest. No one likes conflict management. You’ve got enough on your plate without having to referee what sometimes may seem like playground disagreements among first-graders in the workplace.

However, conflict management is always listed as one of the top skills or traits required of leaders. In fact, a 2013 Stanford University/Miles Group study revealed that conflict management was the #1 skill that CEOs feel they need coaching on. So whether you are a CEO or a department manager, don’t ever forget that it’s your job to maintain law and order - which means you need to resolve conflicts as quickly, and with as little blood shed, as possible.

In order to do this, you first need to understand the many causes of conflict, which are as different as the people they involve.

  Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional   -Max Lucado

Some causes of conflict found in the workplace include:

  • Competition
  • Personality clashes
  • Value clashes
  • One employee not pulling their weight
  • Hurt feelings
  • Perceived unfair treatment

Left untreated, conflict can have several negative effects, such as:

  • It can decrease morale
  • It can cause employees to choose sides
  • It can cause employees to tip-toe
  • It can cause employees to withdraw
  • It can cause employees to quit
  • It can lead to violent outbursts

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument provides a model for conflict resolutions that offers five conflict management styles:

Accommodating: This style may be used when one party may be an expert or has a better solution. However, when you choose to accommodate one party, it means that the other party’s desired outcomes will not be factored into the solution, and they’re not going to be happy campers.

Avoiding: This style is best used when the issue is trivial or when there is no chance that there will be a resolution. It is also used when the issue would involve opening a can of worms, or is a highly emotional issue that may cause more harm than good to address. While it is possible that the issue may resolve itself, there’s also a probability that it won’t.

Competing: This is a win-lose approach in which you make a decision that may anger one or both parties. It is best used in emergency situations, or other settings in which a quick decision is needed and the majority of people will support the decision.

Compromising: This is actually a lose-lose situation in which neither side wins, and both sides have to make concessions. It is best used when there needs to be a temporary solution, or when both sides have equally important goals. However, compromise is often the easy way out.

Collaborating: This involves bringing both parties together to seek a win-win solution. Collaborating will require a high level of trust. In addition, it may require a considerable amount of time to hear everyone’s side, and work together to reach a consensus.

Although true collaboration is usually the best solution, it’s usually avoided for several reasons. Collaborating requires honesty and the possibility of facing ridicule. Also, parties are often uncomfortable admitting their role in the conflict. In addition, most of the time, each party has usually explained their side of the story to their group of friends, and many of the employees may have taken sides in the conflict. Sometimes, collaborating to resolve the conflict means not only admitting fault to the other party, but also to the other people who choose to get involved in the conflict.

Perhaps the hardest part of collaboration is getting both parties to actually listen to one another. Most people are so absorbed with what they want to say that they usually don’t really hear the other person. However, the ability of one party to hear, understand and empathize will be crucial in the collaboration process.

Conflict resolution isn’t easy, but in most cases, it is essential to the success of the organization. While accommodating, avoidance, competing, and compromise may bring temporary peace, collaboration is the only long-term solution.

Terri Williams

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her business, education, and lifestyle articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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