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Volume 7 | Issue 11

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Strategy and Style – Both Matter

Thomas Crum is a skilled practitioner in the field of conflict resolution argues that a shift in focus is a necessary first step before attempting to resolve a conflict and that it involves moving from a “Point of View” mentality to a “Viewing Point” approach. That mental transition requires that you take certain considerations into account.

Conflict Resolution Styles

Competent leaders/managers are seen as such because they’ve mastered certain skills, and one of those is the ability to diffuse a conflict situation and reach an agreement that satisfies all parties. What lies behind their success? One of the first things these successful leaders learn is that more than one approach exists for resolving conflict. Some of the more common approaches are:

  • Avoiding the Conflict – The most inappropriate approach is to avoid or withdraw from a conflict as it lacks courage and consideration for either party. By avoiding the conflict, you essentially pretend that it never happened or is nonexistent.

Some examples of avoidance or withdrawal include pretending there is nothing wrong, stonewalling, or completely shutting down. This is the least desirable approach, yet it is the one most often practiced. A surprising number of people in the workplace will go to great lengths to avoid or ignore various kinds of conflict.

  • Giving In – The action of giving in or accommodating to one or the other parties requires a lot of cooperation and more than a little leadership courage. In certain situations, you agree to accommodate a specific party by acknowledging and accepting their point of view or suggestion. It is a useful tactic when the facts and the circumstances allow it to be used.

While this style can lead to making peace and moving forward, it can also lead to the accommodated party feeling resentment and ill will toward the other party. Consequently, it takes experience and skill to understand when this is appropriate.

  • Standing your Ground – When not done correctly, standing your ground can be seen as inconsiderate. By standing your ground as a leader, you are seen as siding with one or the other of the competing parties and may be perceived as willing to do anything to ensure that one side wins the battle. This common view is the result of this technique being applied as part of a conflict resolution strategy, which can create a negative outcome.

In a conflict resolution process, one or more alternatives will be key to the success of that particular conflict. Compromise too soon, and the agreement reached may not last. Go too far and the process collapses. The important part of any conflict resolution is knowing when the key decision point is reached.

Applying a Stand Your Ground position at that decision point solidifies what has been accomplished in the conflict resolution process, and increases the chances for a successful outcome to that conflict negotiation.

  • Compromising Compromise is the essential purpose of a conflict resolution process, and knowing when the parties are ready to compromise is what separates a good negotiator or mediator from those who either act too soon or too late. While it is the most essential step in this unique process, it carries the biggest risk to both sides in a conflict.

Both courage and consideration are used when you ask both parties to look for and work toward “common ground”.  Your role becomes one of helping the parties negotiate larger points and let go of the smaller points.  This style often expedites the resolution process.

  • Collaborating – Collaboration plays a major role within conflict resolution and requires great leader/manager patience. Collaborating between the two parties involves listening to both their sides, discussing areas of agreement and goals, and ensuring all parties understand each other’s position. Effective collaboration takes time, and that is the one resource the leader must provide in sufficient amounts for this process to work.

Collaboration requires thinking creatively to resolve the problem without offering concessions too early. Being a good leader/manager and collaborator can pay great dividends in subsequent conflict resolution situations. With that in mind, what are some of the key strategies good leaders/managers use in their conflict resolution oversight role?

Conflict Resolution Strategies

Since workplace conflicts are very common and few offices exist where all employees get along, conflict resolution is a necessary component of the workplace. Those in a leadership/management position must be skilled in conflict resolution techniques, and understand when to apply different strategies designed to maintain a healthy work environment.

Knowing how to use conflict resolution strategies is an under-appreciated skill, and several techniques can strengthen a leader or manager’s skills in this area. Among these are:

Listen, Then Speak Out

This bit of advice is often heard inside most companies and organizations and generally accepted as a good idea. The problem lies in that it is a learned skill, and leaders and managers need to be trained in how to actively listen.

In order for it to be successful, it must be approached in a disciplined manner. Once mastered, listening to all parties’ issues is the first and most important step in resolving conflict. It allows the leader to understand;

      • Who the true parties to the conflict are
      • Understand in a more complete way the nature of conflict
      • Start troubleshooting solutions
      • Demonstrate you are giving full consideration to what is disclosed

Gather the Group – As the leader/manager, you set a meeting with all involved parties to discuss the issue(s).

      • Give everyone a chance to speak
      • Hear all sides
      • Gain a full understanding of the conflict

Just having this group meeting may very well expedite a resolution satisfactory to all.

Be Impartial

Refrain from taking sides. In your leadership position, you will want to:

      • Avoid displaying any sort of opinion favoring one side over the other.
      • When the facts tend to favor the party, strive to assess facts from as neutral a stance as possible while seeking a common understanding of what the facts disclose.
      • Given the circumstances identified seek a fair and reasonable solution

Encourage Conflict Resolution – Whenever possible, be proactive in making clear that you support resolving conflict early and honestly. Create empathy and trust by address the conflict immediately and thoughtfully. Otherwise, the situation can escalate and affect the performance of all employees. Make sure to:

Promote Teamwork and Broadcast Praise

Encouragement and motivation are powerful. Remind your staff of successful past projects that required teamwork to complete. This is one of the most effective conflict resolution techniques and really makes all parties think about the importance of working in and as a team.

Furthermore, the power of encouragement and motivation can be multiplied when spread to recognize those who are modeling the teamwork and cooperation desired within any conflict. Recognize appropriate role models in these instances since behavior modeling can be risky if there are elements in the model that are either undesirable or distasteful to some participants.

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