Well-managed conflict earns positive results


Conflict is part of life, and it is perhaps inevitable in the workplace. As people work toward developing new ideas and improving and marketing products and services, clashes in personality, philosophy and intent are almost inescapable.

The good news is that conflict does not have to be a negative experience — if dealt with correctly, conflict can be a springboard for sharing ideas, developing strategies, and working together successfully. However, if those involved do not know how to respond effectively to conflict, more problems will be created.

The first step in responding effectively to conflict is to be aware of yourself, your motives and your emotions. Everyone wants their ideas to be heard, considered and valued. If our thoughts and feelings aren’t acknowledged and appreciated, we become hurt and angry. These emotions are not constructive and can lead to a downward spiral of disrespect, hurt feelings, and harmful statements that don’t resolve problems or move projects forward. Don’t become motivated by fear of rejection or by revenge or insecurity — these incentives will often lead to over-competitiveness, personal attacks or dishonesty.

By becoming aware of your reactions, you can transform an emotional dispute into a process of productive information exchange. The empowerment you feel when belittling another’s argument is false. You will only get authentic empowerment by working with others and finding a functional solution.

The second step in responding effectively to conflict is to be aware of others and what they are trying to convey to you. Other people are just like you — they only want their thoughts to be heard and considered. Even though you might feel confident that you are “right,” it is imperative that you stop and listen to the other person and gain a solid understanding of his or her ideas. Over-believing your own stances can be extremely detrimental to working in a group and coming up with the optimal solutions for your business.

Focus on communication instead of on winning the argument or making yourself look good. Have your ideas clearly understood and clearly understand others’ ideas. Don’t fall prey to personal ambitions or fears: You will serve your goals best by staying professional and concentrating on resolving the issue.

The third step in successfully avoiding conflict is to leave your assumptions at the door. Assumptions are a major cause of misunderstandings, and misunderstandings are at the heart of the majority of conflicts. Many people will assume that those around them hold the same value system that they do; that they share the same amount of knowledge or information that you do; or that everyone shares the same intentions.


Take the opportunity to learn

When entering into a discussion that could devolve into a conflict, treat the interaction as a learning experience. Ask questions and build your knowledge. Even if you think you know the solution for the problem, consider that there are other truths that exist and there could be alternative solutions. Assumptions hinder communication and can also alienate you (and your ideas) from others.


Use approach for type of conflict

Depending on the situation, you may need to choose one of five conflict management styles: competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborating or compromising. While a collaborative style is the most ideal style, there are reasons for a different approach. For example, if you need some but not all of your interests met, a compromising style might be the most valid choice. An avoiding style might be optimal when dealing with a negative conflict in which you do not want to become involved. An accommodating style might be best if you are looking out for someone else’s interests. A competing style might be best if you require all of your needs to be met.

Once you have established a healthy line of communication, you can start to exchange information productively. Establish what the issue is and what your goals and motives are. After you have a solid foundation of information and mutual understanding, you can move on to possible resolutions as a unified group. Although not everyone will agree, you can at least be assured that each person and opinion involved is clearly understood, respected, and valued.

Avoiding conflicts means allowing problems to fester and grow. Facing problems with the right attitude can solve them. Although negative conflict won’t help anyone, a positive conversation will encourage future positive interactions.

Learn from past conflicts. Reflect upon how the conflict arose and how you could have handled the situation more effectively. Could you have listened more closely instead of being determined to have everything your way? Could you have explored the situation together instead of pointing fingers? Could you have been more patient?

It is important not to think of a conflict as a dispute in which one side “wins” and the other side “loses.” A situation where one side feels ignored will only lead to more conflicts. If people feel unappreciated, disrespected or unvalued, they will incite more conflicts.

Although no one likes conflicts, they can prove to be learning experiences for everyone. If you view a conflict as an opportunity instead of a personal confrontation, you will find yourself gaining important insights instead of making enemies.


Michelle Simms is a personal and professional development coach. Reach her at www.SimmsInternational.com

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