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Volume 7 | Issue 10

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Conflict – Resolve or Manage?

Can conflicts be managed in a manner that resolves conflicts fairly and effectively? When employers manage conflicts properly, parties avoid escalating disagreements and feel heard and understood. Differing sides agree to collaborate and overcome the challenge. Some resolutions even offer innovative solutions. 

Experienced managers can learn to perfect conflict resolution skills and strategies to get the most value out of a dispute or conflict. When used early and correctly, conflict management techniques are effective in de-escalating a conflict. 

Yet, the question remains, is that enough? The goal is for people in an organization to function together effectively and for the work to advance to its necessary conclusion. In that instance, managing a conflict is often good enough.

Data informs us that managers spend over twenty percent of their time managing conflicts of one kind or another, and sadly, organization theorists provide very few guidelines to help them achieve better outcomes. 

Also, the few guidelines, such as they are, provide little insight into how to create an ethical framework within which conflicts can be de-escalated/resolved in a manner that balances the needs of the company versus the needs of the employee.

In the arena of interpersonal relationships, one quickly learns that no single, best method exists for addressing conflicts in the workplace. Yet, where you start the process is always a critical decision. 

At my company, the preferred objective is to resolve conflicts whenever possible; as that approach maximizes the parties’ opportunities for success over a longer term. Yet, a clear resolution is not always possible, and when a clear resolution to a conflict is not feasible, several techniques/styles can be adapted to most conflict management processes that can mitigate the strife and stresses in a dispute. Chief among these are: 

Integrating – a style that is

  • Characterized by both high concern for self and for others                              
  • Involves openness, exchange of information, and examination of differences to reach an effective solution acceptable to both parties
  • Associated with problem-solving, which may lead to creative solutions

Obliging also called placating – 

  • Places a high value on others and a low value on self, perhaps reflecting an individual’s low self-esteem
  • A strategy used to deliberately elevate another person, making them feel better about an issue

Dominating –

  • Characterized by high concern for self and low concern for others
  • Identified with a win-lose perspective, and sometimes, with forcing behavior by one individual over another 

Avoiding –

  • Attempts to avoid directly confronting the issue at hand 
  • Includes changing the subject, putting off a discussion until later, or simply refusing to bring up the subject of contention

Compromising – 

  • Attempts to balance the needs of both or all sides in a conflict 
  • Encourages everyone to give in on at least some points
  • More time-consuming and requires more “people skills” than other conflict resolution techniques

These methods/styles are used with superiors, subordinates, and peers. The challenge is in combining these methods to create an outcome that is both ethical and effective. It is argued that, in general, each style of handling interpersonal conflict is most appropriate when it is used to attain an organization’s goals and objectives.

The two most critical variables when engaging in this are; the organizational needs for production and profit, and the human needs for mature and healthy relationships.

As a general principle, the best long-term results are achieved and sustained when concerns for production and for the needs of people are integrated into the organization’s direction.

Yet, it’s important to take into account that the personalities of those involved in a dispute can be the driver behind the conflict. These personality differences need to be identified early and factored into the resolution process. 

Whatever the case and inter-relational styles, it is important to establish guidelines clearly and ensure the parties understand the purpose of the discussion is to work together toward concrete solutions.

Here are four (4) Basic Steps to consider in creating an effective conflict management/resolution process. They are captured in the acronym CARE: 

1. Communicate

Open communication is key in dispute resolution. Expressing how you feel about the situation and sticking to the facts lets the other person know you’re genuine in your actions. Focusing on the problem at hand rather than what the other person did, avoids unnecessary conflict.

2. Actively Listen

Listen to what the other person has to say, without interrupting. Be as objective as possible. Then, ask open-ended questions to make sure each side understands what the other person thinks and how he/she feels.

3. Review Options

Talk over the options, looking for solutions that benefit everyone. Avoid feeling pressured to come up with an immediate answer. Bring in/involve an objective third party if/when necessary.

4. End with a Win-Win Solution

This is the ultimate goal – to agree on an option that benefits both sides to some extent. When one party wins by aggressive behavior or one party simply gives in, someone is losing. This means you get outcomes that fail to resolve the underlying causes of that conflict.

Those who include a CARE strategy as part of their conflict resolution plan are more successful than those who do not.  When building this type of conflict resolution plan, the following tips can strengthen a conflict resolution plan.

  • Take immediate action – One of the most important strategies is to resolve conflicts as soon as possible. Early response minimizes tension and keeps other employees out of disagreement. Many miscommunications are resolved with simple, transparent discussion.  
  • Frame the discussion positively – Refrain from referring to meetings as “conflict resolution.” Instead, depending on who you’re meeting, call the discussion “brainstorming,” a “chat session,” or simply say you’d like to “get opinions” on the matter. 
  • Focus on the issue, rather than the person – Encourage parties to avoid personal attacks and focus on problem-solving. 
  • Practice active listening – Let each party speak without interruption. If the discussion becomes heated, ask parties to clarify how work processes are being impacted or what they need to do their jobs more effectively. Restate what you hear in your own words and ask open-ended questions that encourage parties to speak. 
  • Ask for proposed solutions. Ask for opinions and encourage consensus on a solution.

We at CDC Integrated Services support small businesses and disabled veteran businesses, and the organizations that provide the resources small businesses need. Those of you who read my letters know of my support for the Services Cooperative Association, a non-profit organization that has supported the small business community for 37 years. You can find out more about them here.

Food for Thought: In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point – a higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides. (Thomas Crum)

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