By John Young
Conflict is one of those things that you are always going to have to deal with. It may be conflict between a couple of your employees, between your employee and a customer, or even between you and your employee but you will have to deal with conflict. The conflict may even be good for you or your company. The question is, how will you deal with that conflict?
Following are just a few simple guidelines that will help you deal with conflict in a cool, calm manner that will leave you sounding like the voice of reason when all about you are losing their heads. At it's heart, the secret to dealing with conflict is communication. When you are confronted with a conflict situation you need to listen and help everyone involved in the conflict to listen as well. So use your active listening skills;
- Focus on who's talking. Don't be looking around to see what else is going on. You have one problem already to deal with. Deal with that problem first. Don't be preparing your answer in your mind while another person is still speaking.
- Demonstrate that you are listening. Make sure your body language is showing that you are listening, nod when you understand what someone is saying. Smile and use facial expressions to communicate your understanding. It will help people feel more at ease. Make sure your posture is open and inviting. Don't stand with your arms crossed.
- Ask questions to clarify the situation. If you don't understand what the problem is, are you sure the people involved understand completely what the problem is? Tell the other people what you're hearing them say. For example "What I'm hearing you say is ..." or "It sounds to me as though you are saying that ..." And do this periodically during the discussion. If you find yourself taking something they said personally then say so and ask for more information. "I may not understand you correctly and I find myself taking what you said personally. I heard you say ..., is that what you meant?"
- Don't rush to judgement. Give the speaker time to finish their point. This will help them calm down and avoids the frustration that comes from interruption.
- Respond appropriately and politely. You are trying to gain the information you need to help the conflict reach a suitable resolution. You can't do that if you attack the speaker or put the speaker down. Be candid, open and honest but assert your opinions respectfully. Always remember the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you."
But what is Conflict?
According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, conflict is a competitive or opposing action of incompatibles as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons. So what does that mean? Well, that will break down into four different types of conflict, each one of which will require a different approach from you to resolve. Those four types of conflict are;
- Intrapersonal - a conflict within oneself resulting from trouble a person may have selecting between goals.
- Interpersonal - a conflict between two or more individuals.
- Structural - a conflict that may result from the way the company is organized.
- Strategic - an intentionally generated conflict that is meant to achieve an objective.
Unfortunately you won't be able to provide much help to another person who is suffering from an intrapersonal conflict. These sort of conflicts have to be resolved by the individual. Professional help can be provided for those people and your part is helping that individual find that professional help.
Interpersonal conflict is an area where you can frequently help out the individuals involved. We've already spoken about the active listening skills which will help you resolve those conflicts and a little while later we will talk about a few other tips that can help you resolve these types of conflicts.
You won't be able to eliminate Structural conflict but you may be able to keep the expenses of the conflict to a minimum with caution and diplomacy. Structural conflicts occur when there are limited physical resources or authority, geographic constraints such as distance or locations, time constraints like having too much or too little, organizational changes of the sort you would have when a leader leaves and other things of that nature. Your best way of dealing with this type of conflict is to help people understand and appreciate the external forces and constraints that have created the conflict.
Finally the Strategic conflict will occur when a decision is made to set up a situation that has conflict built into the situation. An example of these conflicts might be when a department manager offers a bonus to his staff but there is only one or two bonuses available and they will go to whoever does the best job in a series of tasks. This is frequently made even more antagonistic when the tasks aren't revealed to the staff. In this situation it will be your job to assist the staff in resolving the conflicts that will arise during the situation. Frequently what your role exactly is will vary depending on the individual or individuals involved.
Don't think that conflict is always a bad situation. Conflict will lead to change and that change may be necessary to help the environment improve. We don't dispute that conflict has negative aspects; the stress caused, the reduction in productivity, the frustration, and there may even be harm caused to the organization but these are never a reason to shy away from a conflict.
How do I deal with Managing Conflict?
There are four methods for dealing with conflict. They are:
- Compromise - One of the most common ways of dealing with conflict this is the classic "I win & lose, You win & lose." In other words no one feels like they really won. This is frequently because we didn't really get to the bottom of the situation that led to the conflict but this strategy is a good one to use when you have a minor problem or a short amount of time to resolve the conflict.
- Avoidance - This is another of the more common ways of dealing with conflict. The denial of any conflict can work for any situation that is not serious and will have no real consequence but it is not a strategy that you will want to use as the tactic can sometimes cause the conflict to get even worse.
- Forcing - This is a popular conflict resolution method when an emergency is occurring. During an emergency situation there may not be time to sit down with all the parties involved in a conflict and a decision needs to be made. This is not a strategy that you will want to use on a regular basis because in an emergency situation you might be forgiven for using the tactic but if you use it on a regular basis you will quickly alienate your staff.
- Resolving - One of the more difficult tactics for resolving conflict but once you master this technique you will possess a powerful tool. This is the strategy that will allow you to provide a winning solution for all or at least most of the parties involved in the conflict. Being able to provide solutions to a conflict that leaves people happy will increase the respect you receive which will only help you as a supervisor.
But to use these tactics you will need to have your employees trust. This means that you will need to be trustworthy. You show your trustworthiness by following through with your promises, communicating with your staff, and providing support. Obviously if you don't do these things you won't have the trust of your employees and this will make your job so much more difficult.
When dealing with a conflict situation you will want to watch your body language. Be aware of a person's personal space, don't stand too close. Don't point fingers, it can come across as accusatory. And keep eye contact with people but don't overdo it and make them feel threatened or demeaned.
Keep your own emotions under control by taking a deep breath when you feel yourself starting to lose that control. Sit or stand comfortably and breathe deeply. Hold that breath for three to four seconds and then slowly exhale. Stretch even. Stretching can release the tension that is building up in your body and this will help you relax which will help you regain control of your own emotions.
Then you will start to actually mediate the conflict. There are seven steps that you will typically go through while mediating the conflict. They are:
- Establish a constructive environment.
- Find out the problem from each person. Get as specific as you can with questions and rephrasing their answers.
- Find out what each person wants to accomplish or what they need to feel satisfied about the resolution.
- Restate the position for each person and make sure that you have it correct by asking the other people if you've stated it correctly.
- Get solutions from the people who are involved in the conflict and get as many as you can from them.
- Help the conflict participants to select a solution that will be satisfactory to everyone.
- Summarize what everyone talked about and the solution that was agreed upon. Make sure everyone is agreeable to the solution before you end the conversation.
This will be easier for you if you are assertive in your dealings with people, both subordinates and superiors. Now I don't mean being aggressive which occurs when you ignore the needs of others, expresses their needs, feelings, or ideas at the expense of others, tries to dominate or humiliate others, and thinks they have all the answers.
No, assertiveness is standing up for your rights, expressing your needs, feelings and ideas, speaking with courage about any matter, and feeling good about themselves. This is having a solid tone of voice with a good volume that is loud enough to be heard by everyone within a typical listening distance but not so loud that you get heard in the next room. It is maintaining eye contact throughout the situation without being a threat. Standing up without slouching or turning away during the conversation. It's touching a person to communicate a connection which will help them open up to you and be more receptive to your ideas and sharing their ideas with you.
These activities and behaviors will help you be more confident in dealing with conflict and more confident in dealing with life. The confidence you feel and radiate will instill confidence in your staff and your bosses. And ultimately will bring success to you in your career and your life.