Conflict is an inevitable and healthy part of life. Each person has a different set of values and beliefs that colours his or her perceptions of the world. Each person also has a different set of goals, wants, and needs. At work, each person may have a different opinion about what needs to be done to solve a problem. Too often, people assume that there has to be a winner in a conflict. They do not attempt to find a solution that is satisfactory to all. When you deal with conflict in a healthy, open manner, you often find a better solution.
People are frequently in conflict over resources, perceptions, and values. Conflicts over resources are easier to resolve than conflicts over perceptions and values.
Not all conflicts and differences can be resolved. Sometimes, you have to learn to agree to disagree. When you can learn to respect one another’s point of view without feeling resentful, wanting revenge, or retaliating, you have handled the situation constructively.
Ineffective Ways to Deal with Conflict
If you constantly avoid conflict when your views are different from those of others, you may become angry and resentful. Eventually, you may have so many negative feelings bottled up inside that you act inappropriately and can no longer be constructive.
Of course, if you air your differences in a way that belittles other people, you may create hard feelings in others. Similarly, if you are overly insistent on having your own way, you may badger and bully others into acceptance of your view. The other party may give in but will feel resentful.
Another often ineffective approach is a bargaining approach. While this is more effective than avoiding conflict or winning at all costs, it may not be the most creative approach. One party may offer something that he or she does not feel good about. In the end, both parties may not get what they need.
By spending a little more time, identifying what the problem is and what each party wants and needs, a more creative solution might be found. Bargaining is often used as a quick-fix solution.
Effective Conflict Resolution
You can learn to deal with conflict in a positive and constructive manner that enhances decision making and contributes to effective working relationships. These skills are called conflict resolution skills.
Constructive conflict resolution is an opportunity for change, growth, and understanding. The most important quality in resolving a conflict is to shift from making judgments about other people and their statements to being curious. Instead of thinking, “Joe is a real fool. How can he expect anyone to buy that idea?” the constructive person thinks, “I wonder what Joe has in mind?”
When you make the shift from judgment to curiosity, following through with an appropriate question, others are not likely to feel defensive. They may be flattered that you are interested in their ideas. When people do not feel defensive, they are more likely to consider new ideas and cooperate.
Conflict resolution process
The steps in effective conflict resolution are:
- Create an effective atmosphere
- Clarify perceptions
- Focus on individual and shared needs
- Take a positive approach
- Generate options
- Develop a list of stepping stones to action
- Make mutual benefit agreements
- Part on good terms
Create an effective atmosphere
Conflicts cannot be resolved in the heat of the moment. If you have a conflict to resolve, arrange to meet at a convenient time when you will not be interrupted or distracted. Never deal with a conflict in front of customers and guests. Start the discussion of the problem in an open, positive way.
If you are angry, postpone the session until you can control your emotions. Sometimes, it can be useful to move the discussion to a more neutral place. For example, you might agree to meet for coffee with the person. A public location where you feel obliged to be polite can help you stay in control of your feelings. You will be less likely to really unload your anger on the other person. Because the one party may feel intimidated by being alone with the other, choose a location in which your conversation can be kept private, but neither party will feel unsafe.
Make time at the beginning of the session for each person to state his or her views. Avoid using blaming statements such as, “You make me so angry.” Instead, state your observations and feelings about an event. For example, you might say, “I had asked for Saturday night off because my mother is visiting from out of town. I’m upset because my request is not reflected in the new schedule.”
Avoid abusive or inflammatory remarks. If you say, “You are a rude and insensitive jerk!” or “You are always late,” the listener is likely to tune out. He or she becomes defensive and unwilling to listen further. If you say, “I was hurt by your jokes about death. My father is terminally ill and I am very worried about him,” the listener is more likely to be willing to engage in further conversation.
When it is your turn to listen, pay careful attention to what the person is saying. Use paraphrasing, summarizing, and questions to clarify what the person is saying and feeling. For example, you might say, “So what you are saying is that you were very angry when I asked you to work Saturday. You wanted the day off to spend with your mother. You thought that I ignored your request.” If the speaker uses blaming or inflammatory language, try to avoid taking the comments personally. Ask questions to determine exactly what the problem is.
Watch your language, tone of voice, and nonverbal gestures. Keep calm and centered.
Focus on individual and shared needs
Find out what each person wants and needs to resolve the situation.
By identifying shared needs, both parties are working toward a consensus. That is, they are attempting to find a decision that takes both parties needs and opinions into account.
Take a positive approach
To work toward a solution, you should take the attitude that together you can find a solution to the problem. This is not the time to think about failures to resolve problems in the past. Treat the agreement as if you are starting fresh. Forgive others for their mistakes in the past. Go on from today and work toward the goals you have set.
Use the brainstorming approach to get out as many ideas as possible without evaluating or criticizing them. Treat each idea as new material to help solve the problem. Remember that ideas that you think are frivolous and silly may help you think about the problem a new way. If nothing else, they help build a bridge of laughter behind the two parties.
Develop stepping stones to action
Sort through the ideas to see which ones will work. Set goals and develop an action plan. Create short, achievable steps that work toward your overall goal.
Make mutual benefit agreements
This step may look like bargaining, but it starts from a different point. The point is to make sure that you both get what you need. Rather than finding a compromise, you are finding a way that both parties can win.
Part on good terms
When you have dealt with a conflict, or if you have agreed to disagree, make a point of parting on good terms. Treat the other person with respect and dignity. Thank the person for discussing the issue with you. For example, you might say, “I really appreciated you explaining your point of view. Even though we might not agree on this issue, I respect your beliefs.” This creates a climate in which you can continue to work together harmoniously. It also means that the person will have a positive approach to resolving the problem when another conflict arises.
Dealing with Anger
Conflicts cannot be effectively resolved if you cannot control your anger. If you are feeling angry:
- Take a few deep breaths to calm down
- Say that you are angry and explain why (without becoming abusive)
- Postpone the discussion if you cannot calm yourself
- Write down your key points and concerns before going into another session
- Move your discussion to a neutral location
If the other person is angry, acknowledge his or her feelings.
When one party thinks there is no conflict
Sometimes, you may feel upset or angry, and the other person does not see the problem. This can be very frustrating. You may be more successful in raising the issue if you are as specific as possible in describing the problem and how you are affected. If necessary, write your concerns down on paper.
When you feel nervous about confronting someone
You may feel very anxious about confronting someone with a problem. Perhaps you have had trouble dealing with this person before. Perhaps the problem is with a supervisor. It may be useful to role play the situation with a friend or co-worker and ask for feedback on how to handle the conflict more effectively. Think through exactly what you need for successful resolution beforehand. Arrange a meeting in a neutral location with the person.
When the other party does not seem to want a resolution
Sometimes it appears that the other party does not want a resolution. In this case, the best approach is to ask the person directly whether he or she wants to find a solution. If the person says yes, explain why you thought that a resolution was not wanted. Deal with these issues first. If the person does not want a resolution, you must decide whether you can live with the conflict or whether you need to take some other action.
For example, you may consider finding another job because you have been unable to resolve a serious conflict with a co-worker or supervisor. However, you may also decide that the assets of working with this individual or in this job outweigh the problems associated with the conflict. If you have gained some respect and understanding for the individual’s position, you may be able to agree to disagree.
Some people may not want to find a solution because they only want things their own way. You may be able to get beyond their defenses by making a special effort to find out what they need. Ask them how you can help meet their needs while still meeting your own.
When conflicts are apparently unsolvable, it may be necessary to find a mediator to help you deal with the problem.
When the other person has a complaint about your behaviour
If you have made a mistake and you think that the person’s complaint about you is fair, make an appropriate apology. Then attend to how to correct the problem in the future. Do not keep apologizing over and over again. Focus on making a decision that puts the matter right. Thank the person for bringing the concern to your attention.
If the complaint is unfair, make it clear that you think so. Attempt to deal with the misunderstanding that arose between you. Perhaps your communication has not been as clear as it should be. Try to close the matter in a way that allows you to part on good terms. Even though the complainant may have been wrong or misinformed, do not try to make him or her look foolish or argue about minor details. Find a way of giving thanks. For example, you might say, “Thanks for discussing this with me.”
You must deal with the emotion and upset before you can solve the problem. Until the emotions have been calmed, the person is unable to hear logical suggestions and solutions.
When someone is angry it is easy to become angry yourself. You need to stay calm and controlled. Keep eye contact and adopt a concerned body posture, voice tone, and facial expression.
Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself if necessary. Encourage the person to blow off steam. Apologize and acknowledge the person’s feelings. Keep your apologies sincere and dignified. Do not apologize so abjectly (in a miserable, degraded manner) that the customer may begin to doubt your sincerity. Show empathy by nodding, encouraging the person to finish the story. Be sure to be an active listener. Reassure the person that you want to help solve the problem.
Solving the Problem
When the person is calm and able to discuss the situation fully, you can move to the problem-solving stage. Ask what he or she would like done to resolve the situation. Offer solutions. Agree on a solution.