Conflict is inevitable. It is proof that we are all unique individuals with distinctive values, opinions and perceptions.

Conflict can be both a positive driver and a counterproductive force in the workplace. Unresolved conflicts can sabotage the effective functioning of any organization, and should be dealt with head-on whenever a disagreement keeps people from working together as a team.

Defining conflict
Conflicts can be major or minor, but we typically save the term for more difficult or painful situations. But, look at it this way: if we save our conflict resolution skills for just the bigger issues, then we don’t get much practice resolving conflict. As a result, many business owners aren’t very skilled at conflict resolution.

“Confrontation is something I am always mindful of,” says Stephanie Scotti of Professionally Speaking, a New Jersey-based executive speech coaching and presentation skills training company. “The trick is to find a way to talk about the issue so the conversation stays productive and the relationship remains intact.”

Using the term “opposition” is a simple and accurate way to define conflict. It doesn’t attempt to gauge the magnitude of the conflict, just that there is one. And since there is no shortage of opposition to go around, that means there’s plenty of conflict — and lots of opportunities to hone our conflict resolution skills.

Whether conflicts are small or large, the same skills are needed to resolve them. So, the more you practice, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with more difficult conflicts when they arise.

Five simple causes of conflict
Before conflicts are dealt with, it’s useful to look at why they occur. Generally speaking, conflict has five primary causes:

1. Control: The basic human desire to effect the direction of events; to gain or retain power or resources.
2. Preferences: The way we go about doing things; our personal styles, habits, tendencies, and methods.
3. Beliefs about facts: What we believe to be true, and how this may differ from the actual truth.
4. Values: The essence of who we are and how we see the world. It is hard to resolve conflicts involving values.
5. Relationship: The history that people have with each other, which may involve issues such as past experiences, past business, or the reporting structure in a business setting.

Conflicts can arise due to one or more of these five factors. Other issues can contribute to the situation — escalating a conflict beyond its initial causes to the point that they become less and less relevant. Once escalation occurs, you’ve got a bigger mess than you started with.

Are you guilty of any of these common escalators?

Words: Using inflammatory phrases such as “you always.”

Non-verbal cues: How you look at someone; your expressions or body language.

Piling on: Bringing up other events or involving other people.

Choosing emotion over logic: When one person is talking from their emotions, you can’t successfully deal with them using logic. Conflicts are not resolved purely at the “thought” level; there is always an emotional component to the resolution.

One way to gauge how you’re doing on emotion versus logic is to “check in” with the other party in the conflict by asking, “What are you feeling in this situation?” As Steven Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Managing conflict: What’s your style?
People manage conflict in a variety of ways, most of which are colored by their individual experiences, preferences, and values. How you approach a conflict will obviously have a direct bearing on how (or whether) it is successfully resolved. Common styles of conflict management include:

Collaborating: Asserting your views while also inviting other perspectives. This style of conflict management welcomes differences, identifies all main concerns, and searches for solutions that meet as many concerns as possible to come to mutual agreement.

Compromising: Urges moderation and “splits the difference” in an attempt to meet people halfway. Compromise is a good tactic when you need a quick solution and both parties are willing to give up something.

Accommodating: Accepting the other person’s view or acknowledging an error. This style of conflict management is suitable in situations when you care more about your relationship than the issue that is causing the conflict.

Avoiding: Delaying your response or withdrawing from the situation. Consider this approach when you are angry and need time to cool off.

Forcing: Attempting to control the outcome by discouraging disagreement and insisting on your view. Force is used when a situation must be resolved quickly, or when you know you are right and need others to recognize that.

As with any type of leadership, no single style of conflict resolution is always the right one. Effective leaders pick and choose the approach that is best for any given situation.

Scott Price, president of Skyline New Jersey, a one-stop exhibit company based in Pine Brook, NJ, led his team in the development of a common language to encourage active discussion across the organization. Says Price, “We now use the term ‘courageous conversations’ to jump-start difficult discussions — making it easy for someone to initiate a tough conversation, and prepare the other person to be sensitive to information that might be hard to say and to hear.”

Resolving conflict: Getting to “OK/OK”
For a conflict to be truly resolved, the concept of “win/win” doesn’t really apply. Both parties should feel as if they’ve sacrificed just a little to prevent a reoccurrence of the issue and allow everyone to move on — more of an “OK/OK” than a “win-win.” The primary goal is to preserve the relationship.

What’s the best way to resolve nagging conflicts for good? Here are four techniques that can help you move toward a positive resolution:

Fractionate: The vast majority of conflicts have more than one cause. By fractionating (breaking down the conflict into smaller pieces), you can attempt to identify and resolve the most minor cause, then move on to the next one and so on. These small victories help you establish momentum, work your way toward resolving the bigger causes of the conflict, and find the “OK/OK” in the situation.

Cooperation, not competition: Competition only serves to escalate conflict. In resolving a conflict, your goal is also to foster or improve your relationship with the other person. Shift your perspective to one of cooperation — working together for both parties’ mutual benefit, rather than toiling alone for a solitary conquest. Cooperation is a necessary factor to fractionate and find those small victories.

Active listening: Listening is not a passive process. It often takes a deliberate effort to suspend our own needs and resist the impulse to react emotionally. Active listening means listening for meaning, then checking to see that the information has been correctly heard and understood. Active listening supports good communication, where the intent of the message delivered by the speaker will equal the impact it has on the recipient. The goal of active listening is to avoid misunderstandings and build trust.

Avoid becoming a conflict confidant: This is the person to whom everyone goes to air his or her grievances. Conflict confidants are caught in the middle with little chance of playing an effective role in resolving the situation. What to do? Let the person know that you appreciate their sharing their feelings, but that they need to involve the conflict’s other party if they really want the situation resolved. Offer to role play or act as a mediator with all parties in the room. In this way, you dodge the thankless role of conflict confidant while turning the situation into a positive leadership or coaching opportunity.

The most important thing to remember about conflict? That it is entirely normal and, if approached constructively, can actually lead to relationships that are stronger than they were before.

A well-resolved conflict has enormous power in moving your relationships to a place of greater trust, stronger commitment, and higher levels of accountability. And there isn’t a business in the world that couldn’t use a little more of that.

Author's Bio: 

Serial entrepreneur Richard Magid is a certified facilitator, business coach and president of Boonton, NJ-based SoundBoard Consulting Group, LLC. Through services and programs that support personal, professional and organizational growth, SoundBoard helps its clients define, develop and apply the skills necessary for building stronger, more profitable businesses and achieving greater personal success. To contact Richard Magid call (973) 334-6222 ext 102 or email