Oct 6, 2016
There are five primary approaches to dealing with conflict: 1) Authority, 2) Compromise, 3) Avoidance, 4) Accommodation, and 5) Collaboration. Many people are comfortable with a few of these approaches but not with all five.
If you misuse, overuse, or under-use any of the five, you take a risk the conflict will become worse. Review the five situations below and decide which method of conflict resolution you would apply in each context, realizing there may be more than one good answer.
- You are having an argument with your boss.
- The other shift leaves a mess for your team to clean up.
- A customer is harassing your receptionist.
- You need to settle a dispute fast between two coworkers who report to you.
- You see one coworker calling out his teammate for missing a deadline.
An argument with your boss: Disagreements are healthy and some supervisors value an employee who thinks and shares their views openly. Conflict can be a sign of trust and caring. However, you need to know when to stop and defer to your supervisor’s experience.
Likely best choice: Accommodation
Other shift leaves you a mess: In surveys, inter-departmental conflict is usually one of the lowest rated areas for management. Problems persist, complaints recur, and frustration mounts. Jumping to conclusions about how irresponsible or disrespectful others are may aggravate the situation. Instead, listen actively to how they want your relationship to work. Show appreciation for what they are doing right. Ask their help in first understanding and then addressing the problem. Thank them when progress is made.
Likely best choice: Collaboration (win-win)
Customer Harassing Receptionist: While you want to treat outsiders with respect, you must not compromise principles or ignore the law. Managers need to be alert to harassment and to take immediate corrective action. If you are in the best position to stand up for the employee to the customer, be objective and clear about what is okay and not okay. Document the situation for your manager and Human Resources. Stay informed.
Likely best choice: Authority
Settling a Minor Dispute Fast: When there is time, collaboration to find a win-win solution is ideal. But sometimes a job needs to be done promptly and exploring alternatives will take much too long. If a dispute isn’t important to the parties involved or your organization, the wisest course may be finding a middle ground where neither party has a clear win or loss.
Likely best choice: Compromise
Coworker v. Coworker: As with most judgment calls, it depends on the context. However, if the coworker that is being criticized is receptive to his colleague’s feedback there is no need to intercede. Holding teammates accountable is the hallmark of a healthy team. As long they are respectful, such interactions may create trust.
Likely best choice: Avoidance
Being a Leader doesn’t mean you do what is comfortable for you. A Leader needs to do what is best in the Big Picture. Learning when and how to use each of the five conflict management approaches is critical is earning credibility and making your team succeed.
Written by Glen Fahs at Cascade Employers Association
Glen is one of the instructors in our Dynamic Leadership Series in Portland. Have any questions about the series please contact Shawna Kelly.
Glen Fahs, Ph.D. in Adult Education and Organization Development, is a Leadership Facilitator for Cascade Employers Association and the Lead Facilitator for the international Resiliency Center. Certified in Achieve Global systems, Glen serves Cascade Members by coaching managers, mediating conflicts, facilitating meetings, and providing customized training. He has worked both internally and as a consultant to corporations, colleges, governments, and nonprofits in the areas of leadership, team building, and change management. Glen has been a member of six local boards, serving as Vice President for Habitat for Humanity, President for the American Society for Training and Development, and President of the Oregon Ethics Commons. Glen was a Director of Higher Continuing Education for 18 years along with 20 years as a Training Director. He has taught Communication, Education, and Management classes for 10 colleges and universities.
A third-generation San Franciscan, he has lived in Oregon since 1979 with his wife, two adult children, and fellow Ducks.