Five Strategies for Effectively Managing Conflict

by terrywelford

in Communication, Teamwork and Team Building

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of team building work with client organizations. Often the need for team building is a result of conflict present in the team, whether that team is a committee, a department, a division or the organization as a whole. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter how small the organization is – conflict is inevitable.

ConflictWhen most people think of the word “conflict,” they associate negative feelings – probably because they haven’t had good experiences with conflict. The reality is that when you put feelings aside, conflict is nothing more than a difference between you and others. That difference can be one of priorities, goals, personality, perspective or any of a number of other factors. Ultimately it’s what we do with conflict that makes it positive or negative. When we don’t deal with conflict effectively, it can result in poor working relationships and disappointing results. When dealt with well, conflict can lead to good relationships and productive outcomes.

Solutions for dealing with conflict have been debated since the time of the ancient philosophers. Over the centuries, philosophers have theorized on how to eliminate, minimize or control conflict. In modern times, we’ve come to realize that conflict can’t be avoided. Therefore, instead of trying to eliminate it, we now try to understand how to handle it.

Most modern theories of conflict are based on research that identified five characteristic ways, or strategies, that people use to respond to conflict. The five strategies are based on a person’s level of assertiveness and cooperation. The more fluent you are in each of these strategies, the more effectively you can handle, manage and resolve conflict with others. Below is a brief description of each of these strategies.

Competing – Is a win-lose strategy (“I win, you lose”). It is assertive and uncooperative. It involves pursuing your own concerns at the other person’s expense. It might mean standing up for your rights, defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.

Compromising – Is a win-some-lose-some strategy. It is intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperation. It’s a give-and-take approach in which neither person gets everything they seek, but both get something. It might mean splitting the difference, exchanging, making concessions, or seeking a quick, middle-ground solution.

Collaborating – Is a win-win strategy. It is assertive and cooperative. It involves working with the other person to find a solution that fully satisfies both sets of concerns.

Accommodating – Is a lose-win strategy (“I lose, you win”). It is unassertive and cooperative. It involves neglecting your own concerns to satisfy the concerns of the other person. It might mean selfless generosity, obeying another’s order when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.

Avoiding – Is a lose-lose strategy. It is unassertive and uncooperative. It involves not pursuing your concerns or the concerns of the other person. It might mean diplomatically side-stepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from the situation.

All five strategies are appropriate in different situations. Skill in managing conflict comes not from adopting one “right” strategy, but from learning how to choose appropriately from the different strategies depending on the circumstances. For example, the Competing strategy might be appropriate when there is an emergency or crisis and someone has to take quick, decisive action. The Avoiding strategy might be the best approach when people need to take a time out and cool down. The Accommodating strategy can be effective when the issue is more important to the other person than it is to you. The Compromising strategy can be valuable when you need to reach a workable solution quickly and don’t have time for a more collaborative approach. And the Collaborative strategy is useful when you need to gain buy-in and commitment through a consensual decision.

Remember that conflict doesn’t have to be “bad”! Constructive conflict plays an important role in our organizations – it can lead to solving problems and generating new ideas. Learning how to manage it effectively is the key. Don’t get stuck in a rut by using only one strategy – vary your approach and you’ll see more success.

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