Streetwise: Conquering Conflict Constructively

August 21, 2021

From our friends at Eure Consulting:

 

This is the third installment in our 25-week series exploring the 25 competencies, or soft skills, that our assessments measure. Each week we’ll give you the definition of that competency and explain its value. Then we’ll give you tips to help you develop it.

This week: Conflict Management

There are many occasions in which you must be able to be objective and non-emotional during difficult discussions.  We all have experienced controversy and arguments in the workplace. But anyone who has supervised employees or managed a workgroup knows that even more difficult is addressing and resolving conflict constructively.

We define Conflict Management as understanding, addressing, and resolving conflict constructively. Pretty straightforward right? The problem is a lot of people balk at the work conflict, it sends shivers down their spine.

But conflict can be a very positive thing if handled appropriately. It is natural and healthy for co-workers to disagree. That’s teams create new ideas, improve products, and work through issues. The keyword in this definition is that you address the conflict constructively. If not, you’ll deal with all the negative side effects of conflict and not receive any of these positive benefits.

Conflict can easily lead to frustration and loss of efficiency. A person who has not developed skills in Conflict Management doesn’t know how to find ways to promote positive outcomes. Nor can they minimize any negative outcomes.

On the other hand, a person who has developed their capacity in Conflict Management can usually resolve a dispute or a conflict easily. By listening to and providing opportunities to meet the needs of all parties. And by adequately addressing interests so that the outcome can satisfy each party.

The key to great Conflict Management is communication.

And those skilled in Conflict Management are able to keep everyone involved listening and sharing. While making sure that they are also being respectful of each other’s viewpoints. In order to successfully resolve a conflict, both parties have to feel heard and understood.

Many conflicts, especially interpersonal ones, find their roots in a miscommunication of some sort. Priorities weren’t clearly stated. Someone assumed something they shouldn’t have. Someone didn’t tell the right person their plan. And so on. Discussing the underlying reasons behind a disagreement enables you to understand the real causes of the problem.  Bring those issues to the forefront by asking about them directly. Then you’ll be well on your way to a resolution.

Both parties need to be able to tell their side of the story and feel that they are truly being listened to. Part of your role as a conflict manager will be to make sure that that is happening. That both parties are being open and honest. And that both parties are actively listening to the other side of the argument. Often people will either hold back, for fear of confrontation. Or they will put up walls, refusing to listen to another viewpoint.

Great conflict managers know how to navigate these sometimes tumultuous waters. And they can still get the two sides to at least listen to each other. They are great at putting people at ease so that they feel comfortable opening up. And they are great at helping others see a different side of the story that they may not have considered previously.

Conflict is ever-present in both personal and professional settings.

This is why Conflict Management is such an important skill to develop. These conflicts can range from small issues to larger, values-based disagreements. If you are skilled in the art of Conflict Management you will be able to effectively resolve these issues no matter their weight. And you’ll help create productive, positive relationships with everyone around you.

Great conflict managers remain neutral, establish trust, and find a win-win outcome for all parties involved. Versus the win-lose dynamic found in most conflicts. They seek out areas of agreement among the participants in the discussion. And then use those areas of agreement as jumping-off points for further progress. They try to see each disagreement as an opportunity to attain mutual satisfaction. Even if it is in a slightly different way than what each party had imagined.

As a side note: If you think you have to “win” every conflict, whether at home or at work, I can guarantee you that you are not winning in the long run.

Finding a win-win solution sometimes includes knowing when to take a step back. Great conflict managers can read the room to understand if tensions have risen too high for a productive discussion. They may then suggest that everyone meet at a later time when the disagreeing parties have had time to cool off.

You can start improving your Conflict Management skills right now by being a better active listener.

You might not be as good of a listener as you think you are. So pay attention to and practice your listening skills. In the next meeting or gathering you attend, be conscious of what other people are saying. Try not to think about your own reactions to whatever is being said. Rather, hear what others say and try to understand why they take the position(s) they do.

As if you are taking meeting minutes, summarize in brief statements what people are saying. Don’t write exactly what they are saying, instead encapsulate it in a phrase or two. After the meeting is over, review your notes. See how much you can interpret about the perspectives of each of the active participants in the meeting.

By making sure that you truly understand what each party is saying and feeling you will be better equipped to find a win-win result. Take a step back to ask clarifying questions without judgment. Work to understand what emotions others are feeling and why. Put yourself in their shoes. Doing this will give you a more balanced and objective view of the issue and therefore help you find the best solution for all involved.

We all solve conflicts every day.

Mostly small ones, but conflicts nonetheless. So I guarantee you that you’re using this skill more often than you think. Take the time to intentionally work on improving your Conflict Management skills and your life will become much less stressful. You’ll be able to easily deal with the small everyday conflicts you face. And you’ll be better suited to solving the larger issues that arise either for yourself or for your co-workers.

Conflict doesn’t have to be scary or unproductive. In fact, it should be embraced as a tool to make your team better. By improving your Conflict Management skills, you can ensure that you make the right and best decision every day by hearing each perspective and finding a win-win solution that benefits everyone.