What is conflict management?

Conflict management means to identify conflict and to have the ability or skill to handle the situation sensibly, efficiently and fairly thus diminishing the stress that arises through conflict.

Conflict is unavoidable, but how we deal with such disagreements is entirely within our power.

How well you are able to deal with conflict could be the making of you professionally. However, contrary to what some people believe, being powerful does not mean that you have to be loud and aggressive. There are many different ways to tackle conflicting behaviours and opinions at work, and sometimes the most effective methods are subtle and go by unnoticed.

Being able to respond positively and dissolve a situation before it becomes heated could make the difference in you being a people person and reaching the top of your game, or somebody unlikeable who fails to progress because of their negative attitude. Managers in business often have their own style of conflict management, proving that it is personal and that there is no one key answer to getting this right.

Each situation is different and depends on a range of contributing factors: the people involved, the subject matter, the location, the time pressure, etc... and therefore those involved will need to react and respond instinctively. And while shouting may simply add to the stressful atmosphere, you don't need to be a pushover and sit back quietly whilst others shout louder and get heard, either. There's a balance to performing this skill just right, in the moment.

Some managers might be too accommodating, at times to their own detriment, others may avoid a situation or conversation altogether. Others, meanwhile, may simply go into attack mode and become extremely assertive. What would your approach be? Of course, this all comes down to how trivial or important the decision or situation is, the people involved, and their behaviour.

So, whether you are a collaborator, a compromiser, or a competitor by nature, you'll see that there's no easy way around the issue of conflict and ultimately someone has to lose. One day you may win, and another you may lose!

Conflict Management In Groups

The more people that are involved in a decision, the more dissimilarities there will be and this could lead to conflict. However, conflict must be avoided at all costs in a business as this could otherwise lead to a drop in productivity, poor relations, and it could impact reputation.

How do you balance getting heard and not sounding aggressive?
Multiple opinions can multiply problems, so conflict management skills are necessary in the workplace. Photo on Visualhunt

That said, it cannot be left up to directors and managers to keep everyone in their workplace happy, co-workers of all levels must work together to avoid the adverse consequences of conflict (like stress, tension and anxiety among workers), as well as the wider impact it can have on a company such as its demise and/or the possibility of losing a job. It is so important to deal with conflict promptly.

Remembering that conflict is usually never between just two people is very important, as the stress, anxiety and tension it causes usually impacts the whole workforce. So what are some of the things that you and your colleagues could be doing to make working as a team run smoothly, in spite of the odd tension?

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Types of Conflict Management Skills

While conflict management is usually the result of instinctive behaviour, the following traits are those that sum up the ability to resolve conflict successfully.

Communication

Communication is one of the biggest contributing factors in resolving conflict. With good communication, you can get through most difficult situations and come out the other end with a solution or positive outcome (even if it means to agree to disagree) - but, of course, this also requires a bit of emotional intelligence and the ability to relate to and understand others!

The reason why communication plays a big role in the workplace is that good communication can help you progress whilst bad communication can actually result in going nowhere or taking a step backwards.

Poor communication is often the culprit when it comes to misunderstandings, which can, in turn, lead to situations of conflict.

Good verbal communication, on the other hand, allows you to be clear and to get across what you expect to happen going forward. To nail positive verbal communication, don't use words that might undermine, hurt or offend the person you are speaking to and also don't use complicated terminology that will confuse them.

Verbal communication isn't the only way that you can keep good relations going, though. Email is also a good way to stay in touch and keep more than one person in the loop. Just remember, however, that sometimes the intended meaning or tone can get lost in a plain text email as everyone reads and interprets words in their own way without body language and pitch to feed off of. So, keep jokes aside when it comes to formal emails!

When delivering a speech or addressing a team on a more formal basis than a one to one, then noise and environment are key. Don't organise a meeting in the cafeteria, for example, when lunch is being prepped or dishes being washed. Presentations should take place in a suitable venue with minimal noise so as to allow the listeners to take the information in, especially when the meeting is to pass on important information about the business that could result in conflict if not taken on board or understood.

Listening can lead to better relations and thus cut down conflict at work.
Being a good listener is as important as being a good talker! Photo credit: crume on VisualHunt / CC BY

A final note on communication... listen.

Being able to communicate your thoughts and beliefs successfully is one thing but listening and taking someone else's opinions on board is quite another. Be as good a listener as you are a speaker and you will do very well indeed.

Emotional Intelligence

For some, communication comes naturally. That said, being emphatic and understanding isn't in everyone's bones.

Having emotional intelligence has nothing to do with your qualifications or expertise, it is all about your experience of dealing with people and learning how others react in a variety of situations. Social skills are, therefore very important to keeping conflict at bay, along with being emphatic, self-aware and motivated.

"Wait a minute", you're thinking, "didn't you just say being emotionally intelligent is about being of others, not yourself?". That's right, but it is also important to be aware of your strengths and limitations when working with others and also to show your passion for the cause you are working on to express to others why you have the strong views you have.

Communication is the best tool for avoiding conflict.
It doesn't matter how, but you must find ways to communicate responsibly to be understood and to understand others. Photo on Visual Hunt

 

Creative Problem Solving

Last but not least, to be excellent at resolving tension within your department or the team you manage, you should know how to get people working together positively rather than being like chalk and cheese. As we've said before, having different personalities in a business is brilliant as it keeps ideas fresh, keeps work interesting and enables the company to boast a wider skillset but, that said, all of these different strengths and weaknesses can cause chaos.

Games aren't just for kids in the playground. Team building exercises have long been used as a way to get teams problem solving as one unit, all the while being open-minded to all suggestions before arriving at a solution. The games can also encourage people to experiment and be more accommodating to different methods and processes so that they can learn to be flexible. Problems usually occur when we least expect them at work so preparing a team to embrace agility is a bonus.

One of the best things about creative problem-solving activities is that there are no winners or losers, which means there is no divide amongst the team. Even those games that end with a single winner have a deeper meaning, which is to teach the workers how to work together in harmony.

Suggested Problem-Solving Games

Wrike.Com, features a long list of suitable team-building games, with one them being 'Minefield'. This creative activity is particularly useful for a team that needs to improve communication skills.

"Minefield

Helps with: Communication

What You’ll Need:

  • An empty room or hallway
  • Blindfolds
  • A collection of common office items

Instructions:

1. Place the items (boxes, chairs, water bottles, bags, etc.) around the room so there's no clear path from one end of the room to the other.

2. Divide your team into pairs and blindfold one person on the team.

3. The other must verbally guide that person from one end of the room to the other, avoiding the "mines."

4. The partner who is not blindfolded can't touch the other.

5. If you want to make the activity more challenging, have all the pairs go simultaneously so teams must find ways to strategically communicate over each other."

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Krishna