Five Methods of Handling Conflict:

Avoidance. Ironically, avoiding pending conflicts can sometimes squash a potential outburst. A sudden difference of opinion can immediately result in conflict. If you as a manager can justify its avoidance (on the basis that it is a conflict of belief, attitude or like) and change the subject before the situation gets out of hand, the situation may be perceived as unimportant and the parties will quite possibly forget the problem.

Accommodation. The manager combines the issues, and resolves the problem with the quickest solution. Differences are downplayed in order to reach an agreement.

Competition. The manager solves the problem by choosing the person most likely to achieve the best results (not necessarily the best idea) and works together to help that employee reach the set goal.

Compromise. The manager speaks to each employee about his or her feelings on the situation and then steers the negotiations in such a way that the employees compromise part of their own objectives in order to reach a satisfactory agreement.

Collaboration. The manager works along with the employees to find the best possible solution. The manager teaches the staff members to accept one another’s ideas and work together to achieve mutual benefits for each party. Trust is increased through the process because both parties are equally concerned with the outcome.

A successful confrontation can have many positive outcomes—both for the parties involved and for the organization. It can lead to a good solution to a problem; increased work productivity; a raised level of commitment to decisions by both parties; a willingness to take greater risks in the future; and a more open and trusting relationship between the parties.

Communicating with Staff: Developing candid, constructive methods of communication is the key to side-stepping negative confrontations. Learn how to communicate with employees and they will learn how to communicate with you. For example, the best way to handle conflict is often to shrug it off. If someone approaches you with venom in their fangs, be cool and calm. Speak your mind, get your ideas across, but don’t fall into their trap. When someone is angry, they’ll say almost anything to start an argument. By keeping a cool posterior and a calming tone, they will fret and fume over to the next cubicle.

Of course, it is not always that easy to steer clear of conflict. Many times when conflict occurs, it is usually the results of someone’s bruised ego. The issue may not even be important. However, when the issue is important to a staff member and reaching an agreement seems impossible, try waiting a few days for the situation to dim. If the anger is still present, encourage those involved to come to you. With your authority and objectivity, you will be able to guide them to a resolution.

Feedback is most effective when it is given in positive rather than negative terms. Feedback should also focus on some specific aspect of an individual’s behavior rather than his or her personality. In addition, employees benefit when feedback is given in both positive and negative situations; this gives them opportunities to assess their strengths as well as their weaknesses. If you only give feedback in negative situations, the staff may never gain the confidence to persevere.

Equally important, you must express any concerns you have about a staff member’s performance directly to the person to whom it pertains. Do not expect staff members to confront one another about their differences if your own approach relies on using the office grapevine as a primary means of communicating.

Communication is a two-way process. If employees feel that their own perspectives are being considered, they will be more willing to accept a solution even when it is not in their favor. If you refuse to communicate openly and sincerely, your staff will never feel that that they can communicate with you.

Many conflicts are actually the end result of poor communication. Misunderstandings about goals and expectations can thrust two unassuming individuals into a never-ending whirlwind of senseless arguments. For example, two parties may be brainstorming for a solution to poor software design. Both parties may have different solutions to the problem. One party may have more at stake than the other, especially if he or she was directly involved in developing the package. When one party suggests overhauling the package, the other party may take immediate offense since he or she spent months developing the software. In any case, think before jumping to conclusions that may cause more problems.

It is best to be frank about your assumptions. Since this is often difficult, ask yourself if there are differing perceptions to the situation. You can clarify most misunderstandings by asking yourself these questions: What is each party’s goal? Is this a conflict between different goals? Between different approaches to the same goal? Between the different needs of two parties’?

Conflicts are much easier to deal with when people know exactly what their goals are for themselves as well as for the group’s .Often a heated argument will occur between two parties indulging in a subjective battle—they do not realize that they are both striving for the same goal.

Responding To Conflict

Accept conflict as natural. Treat it as an opportunity to examine the issue in depth and to learn more about the underlying values and assumptions that are present. Accept the challenge to find imaginative and creative responses to conflicting ideas.

Bring hidden conflicts out in the open. If you think there is an underlying conflict that is causing problems in a group, bring it up at an appropriate time. If you see signs of unexpressed disagreement, ask those involved what they are feeling.

Don’t accuse group members. Laying blame on someone only makes you look bad. See their perspective: What are their values, assumptions and previous experiences?

Identify and focus on the central issues to the conflict. A group may be lost in confusion until someone focuses on the real issues and intended goals. If a meeting is getting nowhere, fast stop it in mid-motion and redefine the goals. Encourage staff members not to get off track. If other issues come up, write them down and address them later. Isolate conflict by pointing out the most basic point of contention. Focusing on this issue may have the short-range effect of escalation, but it is a necessary step when dealing with disagreement.

Don’t compromise too quickly. By compromising too quickly, adequate exploration of the problem and its potential solutions not accomplished. The ideal solution to a conflict is a creative one that finds a way to give everyone what they most need.

Understand and define exactly what you think and feel about an issue before choosing a final decision. Identify which areas you can compromise on or forget about. Don’t expect to find a flawless solution. And don’t get cornered into defending ideas for the sake of principle. On the other hand, don’t offer to compromise just to be a good sport. If you agree to a decision unwillingly (or allow someone else to do so), you will not really be committed to the solution.

Call time out

Calling time out is the best tool for constructive conflict resolution. It is important for people to express themselves during decisions., but sometimes the atmosphere gets so argumentative that people are no longer listening to one another. At this point, call a break, ask for a few minutes silence, suggest that people count to 10 before responding to the discussion and pick it up again at another time.

Schedule a special staff meeting, or even an all-day retreat, and use a “neutral facilitator” (either from inside or outside the group) to help you through a program for dealing with the conflict.

WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?

Conflict often arises when one individual pushes a set of ideals onto another individual who disagrees with those ideals. It is fine for staff to have personal conversations and relationships with co-workers, but a discussion should never turn into a personal debate. As adults, our lives are molded by our individual value systems and we often resent those who deviate too drastically from them. Our friends, spouses, careers and lifestyles often reflect our values and beliefs, so it is no surprise that conflict arises with most anyone we meet; after all practically everyone has a different way of conducting his or her life.

Personal issues-such as opinions, point of view and one’s own value system and goals should not produce interpersonal or organizational crises. Employees within an organization must realize that professional opinions are not the same as personal opinions and that one’s own beliefs should not intrude into the work place.

Personal opinions must remain personal. Getting too personal with co-workers will make your staff’s work life more emotional—something you want staff to avoid.

Don’t expect staff to shroud themselves completely from their co-workers. It is healthy for employees to be friendly with their co-workers. But, employees should be aware that their confidants may reveal their deepest secrets. Staff members should never dip into the “office wishing well” where everyone’s deepest desires sit ready to be retold in different renditions, according to the personal objectives of various storytellers. Here are five tips for defusing conflict:

1. Establish an employee assistance program where staff members can go to solve problems.
2. Help your staff recognize that they share a common goal with other employees: To make the organization successful! This is their primary goal. If they keep this goal in sight any other issues should remain minimal or be perceived as less important.
3. Teach employees that when working, their productivity and contribution to the organization is more important than their personal status.
4. Instill openness between co-workers without asking them to confide too much.
5. Distribute tips for handling conflict and organize a workshop on conflict resolution.

Author's Bio: 

CEO of A.E. Schwartz & Associates of Boston, MA., a comprehensive organization which offers over forty management and professional development training programs with workbooks and practical solutions to organizational problems.

Mr. Schwartz conducts over one hundred programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is an adjunct professor who has taught and lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.

He is also a prolific author having published over 200 articles, dozens of books and hundreds of products. He is often found at conferences with his fast-paced, participatory, practical, succinct, and enjoyable style.